This is a country that attempts to support low-income mothers with tax benefits, food stamps, health insurance, and the Women, Infants, and Children program. Still, it spends less of its gross domestic product on family benefits than all other OECD countries, save for Mexico and Turkey, which are far, far less wealthy. It spends less than half as much as Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. It is also a rarity in largely declining to give parents cash payments to prevent against poverty, as most other high-income countries do. In France, a dual-income household or a single parent earning less than $48,000 a year gets a cash payment of $1,100 for each birth. Lower-income parents also receive three years of monthly payments to help cover their kids’ bills. (There are several other programs for lower-income and all-income parents, too.) The United States, in contrast, does not guarantee impoverished parents welfare. Indeed, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program now provides benefits to fewer than one in four poor families. In Louisiana, it is just one in 25.
As a result, the United States has a higher child poverty rate than nearly all other OECD countries, two, three, or even four times as high as in nations comparable in terms of per capita income. As many as 1.5 million families caring for three million kids live on less than $2 per person, per day, in cash income. In a given year, one in every 30 children in the United States experiences homelessness, a statistic that translates to 2.5 million kids.
Still, it professes to support mothers, and encourages them to keep working when they have children. It has no paid maternity, parental, and home-care leave entitlement. It is the only OECD country for which that is true. Hungary had 160 weeks of paid parental leave all the way back in 1970, and still does today. The United States has none. A large share of American mothers return to work just days after giving birth.
As for early-childhood programs, the United States is committed; both Democratic and Republican administrations say they support them. France, New Zealand, and the Nordic countries spend more than 1 percent of their GDP on early-childhood programs, with the United States spending less than half that amount. This has any number of effects, among them reducing the workforce participation and earnings of American mothers, and reducing the educational attainment and health outcomes of American children. Social scientists argue that early-childhood programs are among the best investment a government can make.
America insists it cares about children’s health. In some states, 10 or even 15 percent of children have no form of health insurance. That limits their access to health care, including to vaccinations. Obesity among American kids is described as an “epidemic,” and 13 million American children struggle with food insecurity. American teenagers are 82 times more likely to die from a gun homicide than their peers in other rich nations. The United States’s infant and child death rates translate into 600,000 “excess deaths” over the past half-century. About 2,000 American children a year die from child abuse or neglect.