A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows that 2.6 million children have sunk below the poverty line in the world’s most affluent countries since the crisis fist broke in 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 affluent countries analysed, child poverty has increased since 2008. In Ireland, Croatia, Latvia, Greece and Iceland, rates rose by over 50%.
In Greece, 2012 median household incomes for families with children sank to 1998 levels – the equivalent of a loss of 14 years of income progress. By this measure Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain lost a decade; Iceland lost 9 years; and Italy, Hungary and Portugal lost 8.
The recession has hit 15-24 year olds especially hard, with the number of NEETs (“Not in Education, Employment, or Training”) rising dramatically in many countries. In the European Union 7.5 million young people (almost equivalent to the population of Switzerland) were classified as NEET in 2013.
In the United States, where extreme child poverty has increased more in this downturn than during the recession of 1982, social safety net measures provided important support to poor working families but were less effective for the extreme poor without jobs. Child poverty has increased in 34 out of 50 states since the start of the crisis. In 2012, 24.2 million children were living in poverty, a net increase of 1.7 million from 2008.
In 18 countries, child poverty actually fell, sometimes markedly. Australia, Chile, Finland, Norway, Poland and the Slovak Republic reduced levels by around 30%.
While early stimulus programmes in some countries were effective in protecting children, by 2010, a majority of countries pivoted sharply from budget stimulus to budget cuts, with negative impact on children, particularly in the Mediterranean region.
“Many affluent countries have suffered a ‘great leap backwards’ in terms of household income, and the impact on children will have long-lasting repercussions for them and their communities,” said Jeffrey O’Malley, UNICEF’s Head of Global Policy and Strategy.
“UNICEF research shows that the strength of social protection policies was a decisive factor in poverty prevention. All countries need strong social safety nets to protect children in bad times and in good – and wealthy countries should lead by example, explicitly committing to eradicate child poverty, developing policies to offset economic downturns, and making child well-being a top priority,” O’Malley said.
The Belgian press compares the situation of children in Brussels to that of Romania, one of the poorest EU countries. According to the report, 10% of the children in Flanders are considered poor, against 20% of the children in Wallonia and 33% of the children in Brussels.
Download the full report here.