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U.S. ranks low in list of nations that help the poor
Despite spending $32 billion a year on international aid -- more than any other country in the world -- the United States was placed low on a ranking of how well nations help the poor. - photo by Daniel Lombardi
The United States placed low on a ranking of how well nations help the poor despite spending $32 billion a year on international aid, more than any other country in the world.

The Center for Global Development released its annual index this week ranking the world's wealthiest 27 nations on how their policies "help or hurt the worlds poorest people." The CGD is an independent think tank working to reduce global poverty through research and policy activism and has compiled the index each year since 2003.

The U.S. ranked 21st out of 27, behind a three-way tie between Hungary, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic for 18th and just ahead of Switzerland, Slovakia and Poland. The top position went to Denmark followed by three other Scandinavian nations: Sweden, Norway and Finland.

CGD Vice President Owen Barder, speaking on the organization's podcast, explained the low ranking for the U.S. "We don't reward bigger countries for being big. We're looking at the effort countries make relative to their size."

Barder explained that the index doesn't only consider the dollar amount spent on aid but also how efficient the aid is and its share of a country's gross national product.

The U.S. spends 0.18 percent of its gross national product on aid and top-ranked Denmark spends 0.85 percent. In that context, Barder says, "the U.S. is rather a stingy donor."

Since 2009, the Kaiser Family Foundation has conducted a poll to survey what Americans know about foreign aid and every year the public widely over-estimates the country's foreign aid spending. Last year's poll found that the average American thought "that spending on foreign aid makes up roughly a quarter of the federal budget." More than half (56 percent) believed the U.S. spends too much on foreign aid. After being told the United States spends less than 1 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid, only 28 percent still thought it was too much.

Popular science educator, Bill Nye, worked with the Gates Foundation to create a short video addressing the misperceptions around foreign aid spending last year.

The CGD index doesn't just consider foreign aid spending. The index also considers six other categories including finance, trade and migration. According to NPR, the United States scored below average in several of the categories.

A particularly low score for the U.S. was on secrecy in financial institutions. "That secrecy makes it easier for corrupt officials and tax evaders in developing countries to hide their ill-gotten gains in the United States," NPR quoted Barder.

But the United States didn't do poorly in all areas. "There are lessons for every country from some other country in here," Barder told NPR. For instance, in the trade category the U.S. ranked sixth by keeping some of the lowest trade tariffs on the index.

You can learn more about how the federal government spends foreign aid on this interactive website: