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UN: Wealthy Countries Failing Disadvantaged Children

FILE - Children at a predominately African-American Islamic school in Baltimore.

A U.N. children’s fund study has found a widening gap between poor and richer children in the world’s wealthiest countries. The UNICEF report ranking the well-being of children in 41 high income countries analyzes the consequences of this growing inequality.

The gap between rich and poor in most wealthy countries is at its highest level in three decades.

The new UNICEF study uses four indicators - income, education, health and life satisfaction - to measure the growing inequality between children at the bottom and those in the middle in high income countries.

UNICEF social policy economic specialist Yekaterina Chzhen says the 41-country rankings are based on how far children at the bottom of the distribution fall below their peers in the middle.

“Countries like Denmark, Finland, Norway, Austria and Switzerland do best overall, while countries like the United Kingdom and the United States are right in the middle. At the same time, at the bottom of the overall ranking, we have countries like Turkey, Israel, Bulgaria and Italy,” said Chzhen.

The report shows income inequality has increased substantially in one-third of the countries studied between 2008 and 2013. It finds inequality gaps in educational achievement have narrowed. At the same time, inequality in children’s health has increased in almost all countries. It notes some improvements also have been made in physical activity and healthier eating among poor children in a majority of the countries.

Chzhen told VOA some of the richest countries are letting their most disadvantaged children fall far behind all others; but, she says the report presents a mixed picture in that some nations that do badly overall do quite well on other indicators.

“So, a country like the United States that is known for its high levels of income inequality overall, quite unsurprisingly, does quite badly on the measure of bottom-end inequality among children; but, at the same time, it ranks quite highly on the measure of inequality in education,” said Chzhen.

Chzhen said poor children do better in countries that have well-established welfare systems and redistribution of income between the richest and poorest. The Nordic countries tend to fall into this category.