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New UNICEF Report Shows 2.6 Million More Children Below Poverty Line

October 28, 2014
College of Arts & Sciences

A new report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the largest children’s rights organization in the world, shows that 2.6 million more 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.

Innocenti Report Card 12, Children of the Recession: The impact of the economic crisis on child well-being in rich countries, ranks 41 countries according to whether levels of child poverty have increased or decreased since 2008.

Ashu Handa, a professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is using his research and connections to contribute to real world policy debates. He is currently serving as the chief of social and economic policies for the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti, the unit that produced the report card. He is on leave in Florence, Italy, until 2015.

Handa’s areas of research focus are poverty, population and human resource economics, social policy and safety nets and applied development microeconomics.

In another Carolina connection, public policy undergraduate Jorge Vargas worked for Handa as an intern in spring 2014, designing and administering a survey and co-authoring one of the background papers listed in the report.

While early stimulus programs 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, according to the report.

“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.”

Other significant findings of the UNICEF report, released Oct. 28 in Italy, include:

  • 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 percent.
  • 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 Greece, in 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 nine years; and Italy, Hungary and Portugal lost eight.
  • The recession has hit 15-24 year olds especially hard, with the number who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) 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 18 countries, child poverty actually fell, sometimes markedly. Australia, Chile, Finland, Norway, Poland and the Slovak Republic reduced levels by around 30 percent.

Download the full report:

(The report has received media coverage around the world, including stories in the Financial Times, BBC Radio, The Guardian, Reuters and more.)

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