We're Not Number One (Not Even Close)

Last week your humble correspondent learned, over a dry repast of catered chicken with some of our nation's most influential men, that unlike Canada and many other civilized democracies, we cannot have single-payer health care because Dennis Kucinich is short. I wonder what these luminaries would say about a new report from Save the Children showing that the United States compares poorly to other developed countries on an equally basic measure.

Thomas Friedman and other pundits worry -- rightly -- that America is not going to remain competitive in the global economy for much longer. But we're lagging behind in other ways, too. Save the Children's eighth annual Mother's Index ranks 141 countries, and found Sweden, among more developed countries, the best place to be a mother. The United States is not even in the top twenty. The rankings are based on criteria for women's well-being -- lifetime risk of maternal mortality, maternity leave benefits, ratio of female-to-male earned income, expected number of years of formal female schooling, female life expectancy at birth, percentage of women using modern contraception women's participation in national government, and percentage of births attended by skilled health care professionals -- as well as the country's score on the organization's Children's Index. (Italy, by the way, is the best place in the developed world to be a kid, while the United States ranks a disgraceful thirtieth.) The criteria for the Children's Index are: mortality rate for kids under five and percentage of children enrolled in school (apologies to home-schoolers, but this does tend to be a decent indicator of how children are faring in a society). Interestingly, among the least developed countries, Cape Verde is number one for both mothers and children. Malawi didn't do badly either -- maybe Madonna should take that kid back!

In other Mother's Day news, fourteen national women's groups -- representing a combined constituency of 10 million women, according to Wake Up Wal-Mart -- signed a letter to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott asking him to bring an end to the discrimination and mistreatment endured by the company's female employees. The letter launched a Mother's Day campaign by Wake Up Wal-Martwhich included actions in at least 43 cities, and a "Million Moms Call" reaching out to over one million families asking them to pledge not to buy Mother's Day gifts at Wal-Mart. In New York state, Governor Spitzer -- in response to a dogged campaign by the United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers (of which I'm a member because I teach at CUNY) and ACORN -- has issued an executive order granting over 60,000 government-subsidized family day care providers the right to form a union and collectively bargain. That's great news for those hard-working women, who make about $2 an hour, and for the low-income mothers who send their children to them -- child-care workers who are better paid have access to further education and professional development, and can do a better job.

Liza Featherstone is a journalist based in New York City. Her work on student and youth activism has been published in The Nation, Lingua Franca, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Left Business Observer, Dissent, The Sydney Morning Herald and Columbia Journalism Review.

(c) 2007 The Nation

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