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September 2, 2009

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US urged to spend more on under-six

AMERICA suffers the industrialized world's worst rates of infant mortality, teenage pregnancy and child poverty, even though the United States spends more per child than better-performing countries such as Switzerland, Japan and the Netherlands, a new survey indicates.

The OECD, a Paris-based watchdog of industrialized nations, urged the US to shift more of its public spending to its youngest children, under the age of six, to improve their health and educational performance.

The report released yesterday, "Doing Better for Children," marks the first time the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has reported on child well-being within its 30 member countries.

The US spends an average of US$140,000 per child, well over the OECD average of US$125,000. But this spending is skewed heavily toward older children between 12 and 17, the OECD survey showed.

US spending on children under six, a period the OECD says is key to children's future well-being, lags far behind other countries, amounting to only US$20,000 per child on average compared to the OECD average of US$30,000, the survey showed.

As a result, it says, infant mortality in the US is the fourth-worst in the OECD after Mexico, Turkey and Slovakia. American 15-year-olds rank seventh from the bottom on the OECD's measure of average educational achievement.

Child poverty rates in the US are nearly double the OECD average, at 21.6 percent compared to 12.4 percent.

The rate of teen births in the US is three times the OECD average, with only Mexico recording a higher rate among OECD countries, the report said.

"A better balance of spending between the 'Dora the Explorer' years of early childhood and the teenage 'Facebook' years would help improve the health, education and well-being of all children in the long term," the OECD said.


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