- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

If the million or so immigrants to the United States this year truly care about their children, then according to the U.N. Children’s Fund, they have just made a terrible mistake.

UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Center announced this week that children in the United States are significantly worse off than their Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development peers in the Netherlands or Sweden or even Greece and the Czech Republic. Someone should tell the 20,343 Dutchmen and Swedes who have become permanent U.S. residents since 2000 — or the 22,823 Greeks and Swedes — how lacking they are in their sensibilities. Conversely, if UNICEF can find the Americans who have made the reverse move, they can throw these several hundred or at most few thousand fine people a party on the cheap for their purported wisdom.

Excuse us for being so cheeky, but this UNICEF report zoomed around the American media this week as supposed evidence of the social enlightenment of Europe and the backwardness of the United States and United Kingdom, with nary a mention of the reasons that lots of people move to the United States but relatively few leave. Sure enough, it turns out that the study’s methodological biases are weighted heavily in favor of countries with high levels of taxation, extensive social-welfare schemes and more equal incomes than the United States. The study significantly discounts such critical factors as future employment opportunities. These, after all, are the reasons why people who truly desire to get ahead continue to come to the United States, and why so many people — both immigrants and illegal aliens — aim for the long run and not just for great government day-care or longer vacations.

The phrase “relative income poverty” tips us off immediately: It measures not absolute but comparative deprivation, meaning that countries where rich kids have flat-screen TVs but immigrants and the poor do not come off the worst. An absolute scale would much better show where the truly needy are. That would be wrong, says UNICEF, because it “fails to acknowledge that in today’s OECD nations the cutting edge of poverty is the contrast, daily perceived, between the lives of the poor and the lives of those around them.” Translation: We do it this way because we want it to, and because our research funding depends upon it.

Some of the other measures are legitimate, like infant mortality and educational attainment. But others are too squishy: Surveys of how many children find their peers “kind and helpful”; how many find themselves being bullied — we’re serious here — and how many report “liking school a lot.”

In truth, the United States lags well behind in a number of important indicators and it’s necessary to say so. It harms the poorest disproportionately. But to be willingly blind to the most important indicator — future opportunities — is plainly biased. The world immigration flow to this supposed backwater of childrearing shows just how flawed the Innocenti approach that is.

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