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C.D.F. Shows Child Poverty Rose Steadily in '80's

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Child poverty rose steadily in the last decade and now pervades every region of the country, the Children's Defense Fund maintains in a new report.

The report, based on new and unpublished Census Bureau data, offers the first city-by-city count of poor children since the 1980 Census. The CDF released a similar state-by-state analysis in July. (See Education Week, Aug. 5, 1992.)

The report shows that 26.2 percent of children living in cities with populations of at least 100,000 are poor, and that in some cities, one-half to two-thirds of children in minority groups are poor. While child poverty historically has been concentrated in large urban centers, the report states that the 20 cities with the highest child-poverty rates in 1989 are "disparate in size and geography.''

In addition to such large cities as Detroit, New Orleans, Cleveland, and Miami, the list includes smaller cities such as Laredo and Waco, Tex.; Shreveport, La.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Macon, Ga.

The report also cited cities not in the top 20--such as Salt Lake City and St. Paul--that have "surprisingly high'' child-poverty rates, and noted that 86 rural counties have a higher precentage of children living in poverty than in the nation's poorest city, Detroit.

The report found that child-poverty rates rose in 84 of the 100 largest cities in the 1980's, with the overall rate for the 100 cities rising from 24.8 percent in 1979 to 28 percent in 1989. Cities with the highest percentage-point increases in child poverty during that period were Flint, Mich.; Milwaukee; Detroit; Gary, Ind.; and Fresno, Calif. The child-poverty rate fell in 15 cities and stayed the same in one, Philadelphia.

'Startling Extremes'

According to the report, child-poverty rates reached "startling extremes'' for minority children in several cities. In 31 cities, at least half of the black children were poor; in 19, at least half of the Native American children were poor; in 10, at least half of the Hispanic children were poor; and in eight, at least half of the Asian-American children were poor. Erie, Pa., had the highest share of both black and Hispanic children living in poverty, while Minneapolis had the highest rate of poor Native American children and St. Paul the highest rate of poor Asian-American children.

As in its state-by-state report, the group noted that poverty rates are highest for the youngest children. In 1989, about 28 percent of urban children younger than 6 were poor, and poverty rates for young minority-group children in some cases exceeded 70 percent.

"Such high rates of poverty among our youngest children are simply not compatible with this country's goal of getting all of our preschool children ready to learn by the time they reach 1st grade,'' said Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the C.D.F.

Olivia Golden, the group's director of programs and policy, attributed the trend to falling wages and the loss of manufacturing jobs, the stagnation and decline of anti-poverty programs, and the rise in single-parent families.

The report urges Congress to pass pending legislation that would improve and boost funding for the child-welfare system and increase food-stamp assistance. It also recommends increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit; raising the minimum wage; expanding youth employment and training programs; improving child-support enforcement; and enacting a refundable tax credit for children.

Copies of the report, "City Child Poverty Data from the 1990 Census,'' are available for $5 each from the CDF, 25 E St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.

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