Human rights is not solely an issue of civil rights and the two should not be confused. Many in the U.S. feel that any human rights issues are only the concern from emerging industrial states, yet despite America's great wealth, we are at the bottom of the heap among industrialized nations around the world when it comes to a definition of human rights which includes not only freedom to political ideas and thought but to economic dignity and access to education, health care and security of well being. Pride goeth before the fall and America should heed the warning. This essay does not compare the living conditions in developing nations with those in the U.S.; there is no argument that there are many in the world who live in conditions one would be pressed to find prevelent in the U.S.. Offered instead is a realistic look at how the U.S. rates among other developed nations in the world. Because so much data is available on the economic conditions of children throughout the world, human rights can be measured by analyzing America's ability to offer basic rights to its children.
Throughout the history of the U.S., our nation has been heralded as "the land of opportunity" and indeed there are countless stories of rags to riches. But even this is a fallacy, with a poor child in America statistically less likely than counterparts in other nations, such as Germany and Switzerland, to break free of the cycle of poverty. (Poor Kids in a Rich Country – Rainwater & Smeeding use the Luxembourg Income Study to rate nations) Despite the liberal market economic system which marks many an idea of freedom to move within the market, it has failed America's young.
The 2007 UNICEF report on Child Poverty in Perspective reveals that the U.S. and United Kingdom repeatedly rank in the lower third of the 20 countries of the study. Even in material well-being, which accounts for relative income poverty, and such things as percentage of homes with less than 10 books, the U.S. ranks only above Ireland, the U.K., Poland and Hungary. How should we define relative income poverty? The UNICEF site states "the poor are those whose resources (material,cultural, and social) are so limited as to exclude them from the minimum acceptable way of life in the Member States in which they live". When comparing "relative income," which is the child's ability to participate in society "norms" based upon an average package of goods and services, the U.S. places at the very bottom of the pack finishing last. With nations reporting on educational opportunities afforded children, the number of households reporting less than six educational possessions, America is at the middle of the pack at almost 30% of households.
Access to health care is considered to be one of the markers of human rights. Most U.S. citizens are aware of the crisis in health care in America, but to what extent? According to the UNICEF report, the U.S. ranks last among the states in the study: last. Does this really constitute a nation with proper human rights? America is one of the last developed nations without universal health care for its citizens. The infant mortality rate, (IMR), ranks the U.S. highest among industrialized nations, at 6 deaths per 1000, second only to Hungary among nations studied.
Education is also a basic human right, and indeed necessary for a healthy democracy. An informed electorate is more likely to participate in the functions of a democracy, yet the U.S. falls enormously short in providing a large portion of its citizens with a basic education, finding itself 5th from the bottom in reading, mathematical, and science literacy. Among ranking of the number of 15-19 year olds in full or part time education, the U.S. is 3rd from the bottom.
Some will explain that the U.S. leads these nations in children raised in single parent families and they would be correct in that fact; however, Sweden, a state with very low child poverty also has a large number of single parent families, ranking directly above the U.S.. The difference being that Sweden offers many family friendly social programs which allow for a higher percentage of single parent families that are employed.
So do human rights exist in the U.S.? Basing human rights on dignity and economic well-being along with civil and democratic rights we find a mixed bag. Examining information from studies such as the 2007 UNICEF Child Poverty in Comparison and from the numerous articles and books like Rainwater & Smeeding's "Poor Kids in Rich Countries" may not make us entirely proud, but in order to change situations, we must first become aware of them. Before we point fingers only at developing nations we may want to examine our own lack of basic human rights and provide answers at home.