We’ve grown accustomed by now to telling our children where not to walk at night, how to stay away from the wrong crowd, how to stay on the right side of the cops, and, lately, how to protect yourself in case of a school shooting. But worldwide, the cold, hard numbers show us the inescapable threats: Measure for measure, America is one of the most dangerous places in the world for a kid to grow up.
According to a multiyear study of mortality data, children in the United States are at higher risk of getting killed than their peers in virtually every other comparably wealthy society. Our country’s number-one child-death ranking centers on two primary factors—teens shot to death, and babies extinguished soon after birth.
The analysis, published in Health Affairs, shows that compared to the other 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “From 2001 to 2010 the risk of death in the United States was 76 percent greater for infants and 57 percent greater for children ages 1 to 19.” Over a 50-year period—that is, over a half-century of unprecedented economic growth—American youth saw some 600,000 excess deaths. It’s not a decline in general public prosperity that is killing kids; death rates can be traced to distinct social policies, including laws that value guns over young people’s lives, and a private health-care system that abandons the most vulnerable infants.
There was one finding that stood out from the rest in this study: “children ages 15 to 19 were eighty-two times more likely to die from gun homicide in the US” compared to the other countries over the past decade. Gun murders disproportionately hit young black men, compared to white male or female peers. Gun homicide accounts for about 11 years of cumulative loss of potential life among black youth, compared to six for whites—a figure that eclipses the comparatively minuscule rate in other countries.
Different forms of fatality stalk black mothers: US infant-mortality rates, primarily due to premature births, are shockingly high, with black women’s babies dying at a severely disproportionate rate. Infant-death rates also vary highly depending on where babies are born. CDC data indicate that while infant mortality has declined nationwide by 15 percent between 2005 and 2015, infant-survival rates are divided by state, so a baby in Mississippi is over twice as likely to die before her first birthday compared to her peer in Massachusetts—a pattern that parallels the prevalence of family poverty and racial segregation.