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Despite Widespread Income Growth, Study Finds Increase in Child Poverty

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The number of children living in poverty in the United States reached 11.2 million in 1989, an increase of 11 percent since 1979 and 19 percent since 1969, according to a study issued last month by the Children's Defense Fund.

The analysis of new as well as unpublished 1990 Census data found that the child-poverty rate rose in 33 states in the 1980's, even as per-capita income, adjusted for inflation, increased in most of those states.

"The widespread trend of rising child poverty in this country is doubly tragic because it happened while the nation grew richer,'' said Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the C.D.F.

"The problem isn't the total amount of resources--it's how we distribute them,'' said Olivia Golden, the group's director of programs and policies.

James D. Weill, the C.D.F.'s general counsel, speculated that the number of poor children is "considerably higher today than in 1989'' due to the recession, and that economic recovery would rescue only "a fraction'' of them.

According to the study, the youngest children are the most likely to be poor. The poverty rate for children under age 6 was 20.1 percent in 1989, compared with 18 percent for all children.

Black children fared the worst among racial and ethnic groups, with 39.8 percent living in poverty. The rates for Native American, Hispanic, Asian-American, and white children were 38.8 percent, 32.2 percent, 17.1 percent, and 12.5 percent, respectively.

The 10 states with the highest child-poverty rates in 1989 were Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma. The lowest rates were in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Alaska, Maryland, New Jersey, Hawaii, Vermont, Delaware, Utah, and Minnesota.

Massachussetts, the sixth-wealthiest state in terms of per-capita income, had the highest share of poor Hispanic children. Wisconsin had the highest percentage of impoverished Asian children, and Louisiana the highest percentage of poor black children. Child-poverty rates grew the most between 1979 and 1989 in Wyoming, Montana, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Michigan.

The C.D.F. is expected to release a similar analysis of city-by-city child-poverty data this month.

Challenges Stereotypes

The C.D.F. attributes the rise in child-poverty rates primarily to a decline in wages relative to inflation and cuts in government programs.

A third, but "less important'' factor, it says, was the increase in the proportion of children living with single mothers. Those households are at higher risk of poverty, the report says, because of the lack of a second income and because women typically earn less than men.

Arloc Sherman, a program associate for the C.D.F, said the study challenges common "stereotypes'' by showing that in several states with high poverty rates, there were more children living with two parents than with one parent and more poor white than poor black children.

Ms. Edelman also said that many parents of poor children are "working harder and 'playing by the rules''' but still cannot meet their children's basic needs.

The study recommends expanding the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, raising the minimum wage, and expanding youth employment and training programs. It also calls for the enactment of a refundable tax credit for children; passage of federal legislation to help troubled families stay together and to aid abused, neglected, and hungry children; and stronger state and national measures to assure payment of child support from absent parents.

Different Conclusion

While sounding some common themes, a report released by the Family Research Council on the same day as the C.D.F. study linked most of the "social challenges'' facing children, including rising poverty, to the breakdown of the family. It cited such factors as rising rates of divorce, single-parent homes, and out-of-wedlock births.

"This increase in single parenthood through divorce and unwed parenthood has been devastating for children,'' says the report. "Frequently missing from ... public discussions, however, is the acknowledgment of the central role single parenthood often plays in the genesis of these difficulties.''

The group, which is headed by Gary L. Bauer, an undersecretary of education and White House aide during the Reagan Administration, offered several recommendations on topics including welfare reform, sex education, and school choice.

Copies of the C.D.F.'s analysis, "Child Poverty Data From the 1990 Census,'' are available for $4.50 each from the C.D.F., 25 E St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001. Copies of the Family Research Council report, "Free To Be Family,'' are available for $15 each from the F.R.C., 700 13th St., N.W., Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20005.

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