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More Children in Working Families Found To Live in Poverty

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While much of the current welfare-reform debate has focused on getting families off public assistance and back to work, a new report shows that a growing number of children of working parents still live a life of poverty.

The population of children living in working-poor families has jumped from 3.4 million to 5.6 million in the past 20 years, according to the 1995 "Kids Count Data Book," released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In its annual report, the Baltimore-based foundation defines working-poor families as those in which one or both parents were employed at least 50 weeks a year and yet earned less than the 1994 federal poverty level, which was $11,821 for a family of three.

The report aims to call into question some of the commonly held perceptions of American poverty now driving the election-year push to further revamp public-assistance programs. In 1994, for example, the findings show, only 14 percent of all children in working-poor families were born to teenage mothers, while about half the children lived in two-parent, married families.

"The face of child poverty has been focused on women on welfare, on teenage parents, and on unwed births," said Bill O'Hare, the survey's coordinator. "But a much faster-growing segment is the children of working parents."

What's more, Mr. O'Hare added, children of working families often face additional disadvantages because they fall beyond the protection of public-assistance safety nets. Often ineligible for Medicaid, working-poor families are less likely to have coverage for medical care.

Role of Education

The Kids Count report points to the pressure that increased global competition and technological advancement have put on the American workforce as one driving force behind the growth in the working-poor population.

These changes continue to put those with less education and training at a greater disadvantage. The typical young man with just a high school diploma today earns 30 percent less in real wages than he did in the early 1970s, the report says.

The gap has widened even more for high school dropouts.

"Lack of education is clearly an important factor," Mr. O'Hare said. "Twenty-five years ago someone with a high school degree or a dropout could get a good job in the manufacturing sector. Now those jobs are few and far between."

To reverse the trends, the report's authors recommend targeting schools that serve the most impoverished families for additional resources, while increasing access to both health care and child care.

The Kids Count report also stresses the importance of bolstering the federal Earned Income Tax Credit program, which provides tax refunds to low-income working families. The report credits the refunds with lifting some 1.7 million children of working-poor families out of poverty in 1994.

For More Information:

Copies of the "Kids Count Data Book" are available free from the Annie E. Casey Foundation at (410) 223-2890. Mail orders should be sent to Attention: "Kids Count Data Book," The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 701 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Md. 21202.

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