Unicef’s Report Card

Worth going through, here are the highlights, download the whole report here (.pdf).

  • Ireland ranks 37th of 41 OECD countries, ahead of Croatia, Latvia, Greece and Iceland in a league table measuring relative changes in child poverty.
  • The recession has hit 15-24 year olds especially hard. Ireland ranks 14th out of 41 countries in a league table measuring the change in NEET. The NEET league table refers to young people who are “Not in Education, Employment or Training” increased by one point to 16.1%.
  • In a Gallup poll surveying people’s perceptions of how their lives have changed Ireland ranks 38th out of 41 countries across the OECD, ahead of Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. Irish families are experiencing additional stress and have a lower overall satisfaction with life. The data further shows that people do not believe children in Ireland have the opportunity to learn and grow every day.
  • 18 OECD countries recorded a reduction in child poverty during the same period, including Chile, Australia and Poland, which saw a reduction of 7.9%.

I found the charts on pages 8 and 9 very interesting as well.

Comments

comments

Author: Stephen Kinsella

Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Limerick.

56 thoughts on “Unicef’s Report Card”

  1. The Level of child Poverty has increased from 18% to 28.6% in Ireland between 2008 and 2012. Most Media outlets are reporting this as a 10% increase in the level of Child poverty in Ireland.
    When clearly they should be reporting a 58% increase.

    I couldn’t understand why 130k more children in poverty in Ireland could equal a mere 10% increase.
    In fairness it is a misleading table on page 10 of the report that the journos have probably latched on to.

    Here is RTE
    http://www.rte.ie/news/2014/1028/655244-unicef/

    The Journal
    http://www.thejournal.ie/child-poverty-report-unicef-1749389-Oct2014/
    I also heard the 10% increase figure being used in RTE and Newstalk radio bulletins

    In fairness to the Irish times and Irish independent they avoided the “10% increase” headlines but neither highlighted the 58% increase figure.

    Because the researchers didn’t do their jobs properly the headline figure of 10% increase is being used in most Irish Media which is very misleading and understates the actual problem.

    The researchers have let unicef down badly in this report.

    The Economist made some similar observations around the lack of care the researchers have taken with the good raw data they have been given.
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2014/10/unicefs-report-child-poverty

    The Economist is the only column I could find that correctly puts the increase of children in poverty at over 50% in Ireland between 2008 and 2012.

    All other Media outlets missed the shockingly correct but disturbing % increase.
    Call me a conspiracy theorist but…

  2. The Level of child Poverty has increased from 18% to 28.6% in Ireland between 2008 and 2012. Most Media outlets are reporting this as a 10% increase in the level of Child poverty in Ireland.
    When clearly they should be reporting a 58% increase.

    I couldn’t understand why 130k more children in poverty in Ireland could equal a mere 10% increase.
    In fairness it is a misleading table on page 10 of the report that the journos have probably latched on to.

    Check out the online reports by RTE and The Journal
    I also heard the 10% increase figure being used in RTE and Newstalk radio bulletins

    In fairness to the Irish times and Irish independent they avoided the “10% increase” headlines but neither highlighted the 58% increase figure.

    Because the researchers didn’t do their jobs properly the headline figure of 10% increase is being used in most Irish Media which is very misleading and understates the actual problem.

    The researchers have let unicef down badly in this report.

    The Economist made some similar observations around the lack of care the researchers have taken with the good raw data they have been given.
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2014/10/unicefs-report-child-poverty

    The Economist is the only column I could find that correctly puts the increase of children in poverty at over 50% in Ireland between 2008 and 2012.

    All other Media outlets missed the shockingly correct but disturbing % increase.
    Call me a conspiracy theorist but…

  3. What struck me immediately were the figures relating to Luxembourg, not the poorest country in the EU! Presumably, the explanation lies in the following extract from the blog post helpfully linked to by Eamon Moran above.

    “But in this report the authors make assumptions that are not adequately justified. Take their definition of “poverty”. Usually academics define poverty as those people with incomes below 60% of their country’s median. That’s a relative measure, of course. Here, though, the authors use income figures from 2008—before the crisis really hit—as a “benchmark” against which to compare the incomes of subsequent years. They do this, they say, because otherwise country-wide falling incomes will mean that the “true” poverty rate could be understated. (In a recession, if everyone’s income is declining, the official poverty rate could be stagnant or even falling, even though in practice many more people are being thrown into penury.)”

    That children, the most vulnerable group, should be assisted is not in question. That Ireland’s record over the decades has been poor is also not in question. But sloppy research results gaining wide circulation, and leading to polemical rather than objectively based debate, is hardly going to help.

  4. The increase in child poverty in Ireland is affected by the unusual definition. It is relative poverty (% of children below 60% of median income in the country) but it is relative not to current median income but to lagged median income.

    “This change is calculated by computing child poverty in 2008 using a poverty line fixed at 60 per cent of median income. Using the same poverty line in 2012, adjusted for inflation, the
    rate is computed and the difference in the two rates is shown. A positive number indicates an increase in child poverty.”

    So this means that in any country where median income falls 2008-2012, if the income fall is distribution-neutral, the poverty rate increases. Why the oddball definition, I do not get the concept? This strange statistic does not measure relative poverty and it does not measure absolute poverty. It does ensure that the poverty rate goes up given that the Great Recession was causing median incomes to fall.

  5. Greg,
    why the oddball definition?
    Simples, because there is a poverty industry with snouts and trotters in the trough. If you produce research which concludes which says “it depends” somebody could question whether their seat at the trough is merited.

  6. 1. Almost 200% increase in child poverty in Iceland. Wasn’t that country supposed to be just awesome? Again, using 2008 income levels as anchor probably a factor, as is relative poverty definition.

    2. It uses 2012 income figure for Ireland – anyone able to do back of the envelope figures on how that has changed some then given reduction in unemployment and increase in GDP in the intervening 18 months?

  7. The data is based on the Survey on Income Living Conditions (SILC)and the Irish data is available on the CSO website. That shows that 14.4% of the population were at risk of poverty in 2008, rising to 16.5% in 2012. The figure for 0-17 year olds rises from 18% to 18.8%

  8. @ BEB

    No doubt Iceland had to take on one of the greatest economic corrections ever in a very short period of time.
    The question is was that better than any other alternative.
    In my opinion undoubtedly yes.

    All
    If they did use an anchor (the 2008 median income) there is some merit in doing that. Although I agree on balance they should have used the median income of 2012 for the 2012 numbers if they have not. Just because none of the neighbors have bread either doesn’t fill your tummy.

  9. @eamonn moran – re: “Just because none of the neighbors have bread either doesn’t fill your tummy.” If they want to measure absolute poverty that can be done in a straightforward way, if they want to measure relative poverty that can be done in a straightforward way, if they want to fudge up some queer statistics to get in the newspapers with surprising findings that can be done in an endless number of complicated ways which confuses everyone. They chose that third choice.

  10. @Eamonn

    Childhood poverty rates almost treble, to one of the highest levels in the OECD, and you think they made the right policy decision? What would the wrong one have looked like?

    My actual point is this: either Icelandic poverty levels have literally exploded, which calls into question the decisions made in that economy, or the stats have been deliberately massaged so as to be as high as possible? I suspect it’s more a case of the latter. You definitely can’t have it both ways of Iceland doing the right thing but let’s not talks about poverty exploding there.

  11. I’m not trying to have it both ways and I agree with you that in the case of Iceland the figures are extremely misleading if they are using the 2008 Anchor and their currency value versus $ has completely changed.

    I stick by my statement that they took the best alternative available. Especially the decision by the President to refuse sign and force a referendum but I completely get why you would want to argue against that type of thing.

  12. The authors give a rationale for their choice of measure in the same page–they want to measure changes relative to 2008. They write:

    “Using this approach, changes in poverty over time reflect changes in income and changes in the distribution of income. This report, however, uses a fixed reference point, anchored to the relative poverty line in 2008, as a benchmark against which to assess the absolute change in child poverty over time. This measure is particularly useful for assessing impacts of the recession, when incomes of the entire population may be changing, and when individuals compare their income to that of their neighbours, as well as to their own circumstances before the crisis.”

    I don’t think they are being deliberately misleading here or jazzing up the findings as commenters suggest–they have one question and they are using the data to find the answer. I’m sure if asked for their computations they’d provide them for example.

    Like every other measure this one has its weaknesses, but it is intended to measure the effects of the Great Recession and it does so, however imperfectly. The authors do point to the traditional measures in the text.

    It would be instructive to see the same measure applied elsewhere, perhaps after other large(ish) downturns in other countries, for comparison.

  13. @ Greg

    Agree with you on that last point except the fact they called a 58% increase (as per their figures) a 10% increase and that 10% figure became the popular headline it makes me think is incompetence rather than mischief.

  14. @ MH

    I was interested enough to look up some data on Luxembourg. It seems that a large Portuguese emigrant population (working – at least initially – in the ceramics industry), and now 16% of the population (!), also skews the figures. Not that the report has created many ripples. Indeed, I suspect that this will be its fate generally.

  15. Stephen Kinsella — You understand this oddball definition after reading the report carefully, and so do most of the commentators here. It is a subtle and difficult definition which is a complicated combination of absolute and relative measures. Meanwhile the report’s headline findings are splashed across the media without any guidance and are widely misinterpreted. I do not think that you should give them the benefit of the doubt since this odd measure (conveniently for them in seeking headlines) produces very large increases in poverty when applied from a peak to trough in per capita income as in 2008-2012. It reminds me of the reports that used to be produced by US gun lobby and tobacco lobby “scientific research panels”.

  16. @Gregory Connor

    “I do not think that you should give them the benefit of the doubt since this odd measure (conveniently for them in seeking headlines) produces very large increases in poverty when applied from a peak to trough in per capita income as in 2008-2012.”

    Why are you ignoring the fact that the headlines have understated the increase? 10% instead of 58%. A little inconvenient for your narrative?

  17. @Greg, there is certainly an issue with communicating findings of reports of this type, that is, non-standard measures. I guess I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt because they are unicef, but perhaps I’m being naive in that regard. Another aspect is the reproducibility of their findings, which I might investigate.

  18. @tull

    Yes, a pernicious “poverty industry” with snouts in the trough. What we really need is a virtuous “wealth industry” to make sure that the wealthy get a fair shake.

    No but really: do you ever listen to yourself?

  19. Greg, I wouldn’t regard the poverty line they used as a mixture of absolute or relative. They chose a line (which was I presume 60% of median income in 2008) and then left it fixed. So this is an absolute line, since it didn’t change in line with changes in income over the subsequent period.

    There are arguments for and against absolute/relative poverty lines. You could also make a case that instead of choosing an income elasticity of the poverty line of 0 or 1, we could choose a compromise such as 0.5. But this might only cause more confusion! My own preference is that the shorter the time period the more I would tend towards an absolute line.

    As to whether they chose their line to deliberately maximise headlines, well, I don’t know. If you are looking specifically at the impact of the recession, then choosing peak to trough seems plausible enough.

    Eamonn Moran, I appreciate the point you are making, but if they had chosen the technically more correct measure of 58% , then I suspect that would have caused even more confusion. The way they have presented percentage changes is the way I think most casual readers would understand them.

    In general, my experience is that presenting figures on poverty is always tricky and you have to make compromises between getting across a simple message or else spending a lot of time and effort explaining the intricacies of the measures. By which time most people will have fallen asleep (congratulations to those who stayed awake to the end of this post!).

  20. Greg, I would regard it as such, since it is fixed (at its 2008 level), and has not been adjusted to take account of the falls in income since 2008.

  21. @eoin

    “2. It uses 2012 income figure for Ireland – anyone able to do back of the envelope figures on how that has changed some then given reduction in unemployment and increase in GDP in the intervening 18 months?”

    Its not worth employing an envelope. Their methodology (some would say method of skewing the results) includes a term to increase the level of poverty when gdp falls. Poverty in Ireland has therefore decreased over the last 18 months.

    Presumably the equivalent research covering 2000 – 2007 showed a remarkable reduction in poverty levels for the same reason?

    I think they risk the binning of this stuff by many on the basis that they appear to have sought a grandiose way of claiming that people generally get poorer during recessions.

  22. Earnie,

    Hi how is the rent collecting going. Do people still fall asleep in your “lectures”or do they still skip them to go do something useful like play cards.

  23. Why not use the consistent poverty rate, which is a mix of the risk of poverty and a deprivation rate?. In Ireland that rose from 4.2% in 2008 to 7.7% in 2012, with that of children rising from 6.3% to 9.9%.
    Calling an income distribution measure (‘the risk of poverty rate’) a poverty rate seems misleading is it not?

  24. @ David Madden
    “Eamonn Moran, I appreciate the point you are making, but if they had chosen the technically more correct measure of 58% , then I suspect that would have caused even more confusion. The way they have presented percentage changes is the way I think most casual readers would understand them.”

    I disagree.
    The headlines in the Papers and Radio gave the impression that the numbers of children in poverty had increased by 10% over the period.

    It is only because in the next breadth in the radio bulletin they said it had increased by 130,000 that I knew something was wrong.

    However the issue that Peter Power and Unicef Ireland should be trumpeting in this country are the levels of children in poverty compared to adults and pensioners.
    During the Celtic Tiger the levels of people over 65 in Poverty managed to get down to just under 2% (it was at a similar rate to children dung the 80’s)due to pressures put on the government by social justice Ireland, Groups representing older people and the fact that old people vote.

    Child poverty mainly consisting of children of single parents never really reduced to anything close to that level.
    These people were found to be less deserving in sharing in prosperity.
    People like Unicef, Social justice Ireland, the national youth council of Ireland really let these kids down in their lack of outrage.
    When Frank Dalys Commision on taxation made recommendations that the single parent tax allowance be removed in 2009 they knew it was these same kids that would face the brunt of that reduction. Joan Burton removed it in Budget 2013.
    Single fathers who did pay child support on the average industrial wage had their take home pay cut by 200 euro a month.
    Single fathers who did not pay child support were unaffected.

  25. Dan, I doubt if figures for consistent poverty (as measured in Ireland) are available on a worldwide basis, so they stick with what they believe to be reasonably comparable worldwide.

    In terms of using what you call an income distribution measure, its a damned if you do and damned if you don’t problem. Using the same actual number for the poverty line (e.g. $x per day for all countries) faces the issue of choosing between market exchange rates or PP rates, taking account of state provided services (e.g. free childcare in country x versus state provided childcare in country y) and a host of other problems of comparability. So they use a compromise – take a relative measure across countries, but leave it fixed (in absolute terms) over time. Thats why Greg called it a mixture of the two (and on reflection thats not a bad way of describing it).

    But better to look at what happens over time – the measure they use will pick up whether things have got better or worse for kids in an absolute sense within their country over time. Thus within each country the poverty measure is not an income distribution measure, since it measures the fraction above or below a fixed line.

    Fixing the line both over time and between countries (which is maybe what you are suggesting?) I think would be even more misleading.

    So I would interpret the figures as telling us how things have got better or worse for kids within each country, but not whether kids in country A are better/worse off than kids in country B.

  26. This magnificent report has cleared up a long-standing mystery for me.

    I go to California a lot on business, especially conferences in San Diego.

    One of the conference perks is usually a daytrip to Tijuana, Mexico.

    I’ve been wondering for sometime why there is always an 8-mile queue of Californians at the border to get into Mexico, and why the Mexican immigration are so thorough in their questioning to determine if they intend to stay rather return to California. In, contrast there are no queues at all on the way back and no immigration checks. and you can dander freely from Mexico into California, although few do.

    This report clears it up. My years of puzzlement are over.

    Its because poverty rates in California are greater than poverty rates in Mexico.

    As Michael Caine would say, ‘not a lot of people know that’. I certainly didn’t.

    But this report does, and gives the following figures:

    poverty rate in Mexico: 34.3 per cent
    poverty rate in California: 36.0 per cent

    and for good measure, along the border:

    poverty rate in Texas: 37.1 per cent
    poverty rate in Arizona: 39.4 per cent

    No wonder illegal immigration from these 3 poverty-stricken states into relatively rich Mexico has become such a problem in recent years.

  27. @Financial System Screwed Lifeworld of the Young Hibernians

    ‘» Ireland ranks 37th of 41 OECD countries, ahead of Croatia, Latvia, Greece and Iceland in a league table measuring relative changes in child poverty.

    » The recession has hit 15-24 year olds especially hard. Ireland ranks 14th out of 41 countries in a league table measuring the change in NEET. The NEET league table refers to young people who are “Not in Education, Employment or Training” increased by one point to 16.1%.

    » In a Gallup poll surveying people’s perceptions of how their lives have changed Ireland ranks 38th out of 41 countries across the OECD, ahead of Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. Irish families are experiencing additional stress and have a lower overall satisfaction with life. The data further shows that people do not believe children in Ireland have the opportunity to learn and grow every day.’

    These trends, based on the evidence presented, are more than plausible. These represent the social, psychological & economic costs of citizen-serfhood under financial system exploitation.

    These general trends are irrefutable. Period.

  28. @tull

    The “lectures” would be going great were it not for a certain McAdoo scion who keeps disrupting class and asking “why do we have to know this?”

    Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

  29. Earnie,
    Good to see at least one person turns up your spif. In my time, it clashed with pool in the trap.

  30. I notice many posters do not like the methodology being used to attempt to measure child poverty, yet the methodology is fully explained. Those commentators are not alone. Forbes magazine does not like the methodology either.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/10/29/dont-take-that-unicef-child-poverty-report-seriously-its-not-a-serious-report/

    “Pay no attention at all to this Unicef report on child poverty. It’s a propagandist waste of electrons, nothing else. ” according to Tim Worstall.

    But is anybody denying that child poverty will have increased substantially since 2008?
    I note that the NEET rates have increased in many countries, although Ireland has not done too badly.
    Figure 8, regarding Greece where in over 20% of households, one parent at least has lost their job, should also give pause for thought.

    They are unlikely to give Tim Worstall or Forbes pause for thought.
    But eventually the children born into the very real poverty that exists may cause the Forbes propagandists some concern.

  31. JR,
    Yes , I am an avid supporter of QE. It has saved the US and Uk and pulled us out of recession in its wake. Look at what has happened in the EZ while the Krauts have opposed this necessary step.
    As a lefty, I know you would rather everybody was equally poor. Who cares if the rich get richer? They pay taxes, spend money and employ people.

  32. @ Tull

    QE has got a bit of growth going in the US but what is your take on what’s going to drive consumption over there going forward? Real Average earnings are not going anywhere.

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/753839f0-e75b-11e3-88be-00144feabdc0.html

    “Economic forecasters have yet to internalise the fact that the US economy has fundamentally altered. The purchasing power of the majority of Americans has not only stagnated since the recovery began five years ago – it has actually declined.
    At $53,000, the median US household is more than $4,000 – or 7.6 per cent – poorer in real terms than it was at the start of the recession in 2008, according to Sentier Research. Yet the economy as a whole has long since overtaken its pre-recession size.”

    Where is the growth going to come from? The plutocrats ?

    Smithers looks at profit margins vs personal savings, a slightly different angle

    http://blogs.ft.com/andrew-smithers/2014/09/what-will-bring-down-us-equity-prices/

  33. @Tull

    I would like a bit of QE myself. Here is my version.
    A 5 year interest free loan to every citizen of the EZ. [PPS no required, govt required to backstop non repayment]. A it tricky logistically but far more effective than a boost is asset prices.

    “Who cares if the rich get richer? They pay taxes, spend money and employ people.”

    With GDP flat in most of the EZ, the only way one group can get rich is by by another getting poorer. Which group do you have in mind for the route to penury.

  34. @ JR

    “With GDP flat in most of the EZ, the only way one group can get rich is by by another getting poorer. Which group do you have in mind for the route to penury.”

    Im thinking the employed are getting richer at the unemployed’s expense. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a bad thing. Complicated and not without its pitfalls, but not necessarily “bad”.

  35. @ Tull

    Who cares if the rich get richer?

    I do if they take heads I win tails you lose risk and the system crashes again.

    A lot of the stuff in How to spend it is vulgar and I doubt many of them are L’Oreal style “because you’re worth it”.

  36. Seafoid,

    Every time a friend succeeds a little bit of you dies?

    QE “ended” and the world still turned . Your pal Autehrs in the FT is telling us to buy European equities.

  37. The Bank of Japan has increased its rate of money printing and in Sept wages fell for the 12th straight month.

    However on Tull’s point about the US, QE had an impact 1) because the richest 5% are responsible for about 40% of consumer outlays and 2) interest in investment in stocks is high among the wealthy.

  38. @BEB

    Im thinking the employed are getting richer at the unemployed’s expense. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a bad thing. Complicated and not without its pitfalls, but not necessarily “bad”.

    That’s the most uncivilized comment i’ve ever seen on this site. I would go as far as to say inhumane and cruel, but hey just be like Atlas and Shrug.

    @BL

    Exhibit A

  39. @ eamonn

    how is that uncivilised? How else should any economic growth or increase in wealth be distributed? Would you prefer the unemployed were getting richer at the employed’s expense? Remind me how that ends again?

  40. @ Seafoid

    again, i have made no argument that the wealthy should benefit more than the rest, or that the poor/less wealthy should not be entitled to gain in the economy. What i said was that the employed benefitting at the expense of the unemployed is not necessarily a bad thing (note, that does not mean its not a bad thing or that its a good thing, but that its not necessarily a bad thing – context as always is useful)

  41. BEB,
    You need a system where those that receive wage income are better off than if they were on welfare. This they pay taxes and support others less fortunate. If the incentives are the other way around where recovers are better off than payers then it ends badly for the receivers. irish Times columnists and readers do not seem to get this.

  42. @ Tull

    “irish Times columnists and readers do not seem to get this.”

    Actually. they would appear to think this is “the most uncivilised comment ever” on this forum (and given the comments on here, thats high praise indeed).

  43. “What i said was that the employed benefitting at the expense of the unemployed is not necessarily a bad thing”

    Depends on the context , BEB

    If young people are denied access to work because of superior organisation by those in work and youth unemployment reaches 50% as in Italy and Spain then that is not good for anyone .
    It’s all about what effect individual situations have on the potential for the economy to grow long term.

  44. Is the Irish Times the most expensive paper in the world to give prominence to a Trotskyite revolutionary calling the nation to revolution?

    The Irish Times is doing that with Eamonn McCann this week. Unfortunately, the masses won’t see it because the Irish Times costs a fortune. The only people who’ll be reading his drivel are wealthy businessmen in Dalkey.

    No self-respecting nationalist in Tyrone would dream of buying the Irish Times. The only people who buy it in Tyrone are retired British army majors. They buy it for the coverage it has historically given to goings-on among the horsey anglo-Irish set. and the British aristocracy. They must choke on their cornflakes when instead they get a dose of McCann (not to mention O’Toole, Holland, Mullally, and the rest of the politburo as well.)

    I confess I used to read McCann regularly myself. Back in 1965 I bought Socialist Worker every Friday on the way to school. But, only because I rather liked the look of the girl flogging it at the street corner (that was the year the mini-skirt came in and left-wing activists were way ahead of the rest of Ireland in adopting this fashion). Never thought he’d still be coming out with the same rubbish as I entered my dotage and that the Irish Times would be the outlet for him to do so.

  45. @ Seafoid

    “Depends on the context”

    Did you note the part where I said “context is useful”? Or maybe I really am history’s greatest monster for suggesting that the fruits of economic growth should fall more on the side of those who are working to gain that growth rather than those that are not.

  46. @ Tull

    “You need a system where those that receive wage income are better off than if they were on welfare. This they pay taxes and support others less fortunate.”

    Are you calling for an increase in the minimum wage? Or an increase in the average wage?

    BEB

    I think you are right.

    Saying that an increase inequality in context of today’s Ireland, where since 2008 homework clubs have been closed down, CE schemes have been closed, subvention for public transport has been slashed, child poverty has ballooned, teaching assistants in Deish schools being let go and pupil teacher ratios increasing is “not necessarily bad” should be taken in the context it was made.

  47. @ Eamonn

    You’re right. That’s exactly what I was implying. It’s just a shame your answer managed to totally avoid the employed vs unemployed part of the debate and focused totally on tales of woe which I never made any reference to. Other than that it was spot on.

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