The Kid Angle: Why are our children so unhappy?

So the happiness scores are out. The U.S. ranked 23rd in a field of 143 countries, the first time since the report began publishing in 2012 that the U.S. was not among the top 20 countries. But here’s the kicker: Our children and young people drove the decline.

People under age 30 in the U.S. ranked 62nd in happiness, behind countries including Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Saudi Arabia.

Why are our children so unhappy? Let us count the ways:

  1. The mental health crisis is literally killing themDeaths among children and teens increased by 20% between 2019 and 2021, the largest increase in 50 years. Suicide is now the second leading cause of childhood death. Firearms are the first.
  2. Millions of them are losing health care — often because of paperwork glitches: Nearly 5 million children have lost access to Medicaid through the unwinding process. In some states, such as Texas, nearly two-thirds of the children enrolled lost their coverage.
  3. Our babies are systemically disadvantaged: Infant mortality, already higher in the U.S. than in other wealthy nations, increased in 2022 for the first time in 20 years. Babies also battle higher rates of poverty, homelessness, hunger, and other disadvantages.
  4. Growing disinformation around vaccines is making them sick: Global vaccination rates for children have fallen to 2008 levels, with long-forgotten diseases including measles and polio surging in the United States for the first time in decades.
  5. Politicians are threatening to gut or close their schools: As millions of students struggle to overcome pandemic-era learning loss, increased inequity, book bans, and gun violence in schools, some lawmakers prioritize the well-being of adults over students and threaten to eradicate public education.

What can we do about it?

Several specific measures would help ease our children’s crisis. Passing the improved Child Tax Credit, establishing a child poverty reduction target, reversing the child mortality crisis, and making sure children have enough to eat all come to mind.

But to truly secure the health and future of our children, U.S. lawmakers and leaders must fundamentally shift their approach and must put children at the center of all federal policy and budget decisions.

In short, Congress must stop acting like what they do today has no impact on the America of tomorrow.