A new UNICEF report shows that 2.6 million children have sunk below the poverty line in the world’s most affluent countries since 2008, bringing the total number of children in the developed world living in poverty to an estimated 76.5 million.*
In 23 of the 41 countries analyzed, child poverty has increased since 2008. In Ireland, Croatia, Latvia, Greece, and Iceland, rates rose by over 50 per cent.
In the United States, the overall poverty rate for children rose from an already high 30.1 percent in 2008 to 32.2 percent in 2012.
The report also explains that, in recent decades, the social safety net in the United States has favored the working poor more than the out-of-work poor. Thus, for example,
Among those at or below 100 per cent of the poverty threshold, a large decrease in earned income and TANF in 2010 is offset by large increases in food stamps and the EITC. There was also a modest increase in unemployment insurance. For this group as a whole, the increase in child poverty was lower during this recession than it was in 1982.
For those at or below 50 per cent of the poverty threshold – the extreme poor – the story is somewhat different. Panel B still shows a large decrease in earned income and TANF and a large increase in food stamps, but it also shows a much smaller increase in the EITC and a slight decline in unemployment insurance, in contrast with the situation of the regular poor.
This highlights how the United States safety net has changed to provide more support for poor working families and less for the extreme poor with no work. As a result, extreme child poverty has also increased more in this recession than in the recession of 1982, indicating that the safety net was stronger for the poorest children 30 years ago.
*The UNICEF report uses a fixed reference point, anchored to the relative poverty line in 2008, as a benchmark against which to assess the absolute change in child poverty over time. This change is calculated by computing child poverty in 2008 using a poverty line fixed at 60 per cent of median income. Using the same poverty line in 2012, adjusted for inflation, the rate is computed and the difference in the two rates is shown. A positive number indicates an increase in child poverty. (Using a relative poverty line each year would obscure the impact on poverty of an overall decline in median income. In the United Kingdom, for example, relative child poverty decreased from 24 per cent in 2008 to 18.6 per cent in 2012 due to a sharp decline in median income and the subsequent lowering of the relative poverty line. Using the anchored indicator, it actually increased from 24.0 per cent to 25.6 per cent from the start of the recession.)