It may come as no surprise, but millions of American children continue to live in poverty, are more prone to abuse and generally do without health insurance on a larger scale than children in other industrialized countries around the world.

The findings of a new national survey, released Thursday, reiterate those of a similar study released a year ago. The new survey contains the additional result that most U.S. voters believe presidential candidates-apparent Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama need to focus some attention on what is seen as the federal government's anemic response to the ongoing blight on the country's most vulnerable and least influential constituency.

The Every Child Matters Education Fund, which sponsored the survey, refers to the inadequate and chronic lack of serious response by the federal government as "Homeland Insecurity," and believes it to be a greater threat to the welfare of society in general than the faltering economy.

In the state-by-state review of programs ensuring child welfare and safety, Utah was ranked generally in the middle, although it has the fifth-lowest rate of infant mortality.

Compared to industrialized nations, the Group of 8 (G-8) in particular, the survey and a report by the social welfare organization UNICEF ranked the United States seventh.

The ECMEF report found "children in the bottom states are three times as likely to live in poverty, five times as likely to be without health insurance, eight times as likely to be incarcerated and three times as likely to die before their 14th birthday ... The U.S. ranks last among the rich democracies on the two most important health measures, infant mortality and longevity, even though we spend much more on medical care."

The G-8 is Germany, Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and Russia.

Repeated polling commissioned by Every Child Matters shows that across the nation and across the political spectrum voters support new national investments in children, said Michael R. Petit, President of Every Child Matters. In a telephone news conference announcing the findings, he said, "That is because the public knows intuitively what all research confirms: Spending on kids has a great return on investment. It keeps the U.S. competitive in a global market."

Lack of health care, abuse and neglect, imprisonment, poverty — these conditions confront American children on a scale unknown in the other rich democracies, Petit said.

"These countries, competitors and allies alike, recognize that smart investments that pull all children and families forward benefit everyone. It's time for America to recommit to this same great goal."

According to the survey and the most recent issue of a national data book on child welfare, children in Utah are less well off than they were a year ago, with more kids living in poverty, an increase in the teen death rate and a consistently high number of low birth-weight babies.

Despite the declines, which are counter to the way child advocates would like to see them moving, the state still maintains higher marks in those categories than most states. Utah ranks No. 1 in the country for having the lowest percentage of children in single-parent families (18 percent) and for having the lowest infant mortality rate (4.5 deaths per 1,000 births.)

Other Utah statistics:

• 12 percent live in poverty — a 20 percent increase since 2000. Nationally, 18 percent of all children live in poverty.

• 13 percent (about 90,000) don't have health insurance, compared to 11 percent nationally.

• 37 percent live in working poor families (below 200 percent of the federal poverty level) compared to 40 percent nationally.


E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com