Portrait of Poor Children Defies Stereotype, C.D.F. Report Says

By Deborah L. Cohen — June 12, 1991 2 min read

Washington--Contrary to popular stereotypes, black children living in female-headed families receiving welfare and living in central cities account for only 1 in 10 of the American children living in poverty, according to a new report from the Children’s Defense Fund.

The report, which its authors say contains new research on the impact of three decades of economic cycles on children, also maintains that recessions are “throwing more children into poverty, and economic recoveries are less effective than in the past” in alleviating their plight.

The report says more than 12 million American children--about one in five--are poor, making them almost twice as likely to be poor as any other group, including the elderly. While one-third of the children in poverty are black--the largest share relative to their population size--two in three poor children are white, Latino, Asian, or Native American, the report notes.

According to the cdf, the poverty rate escalated most among Latino children between 1979 and 1989.

Not only are more children poor, notes the report, but their poverty is deeper than in the 1970’s. By 1989, it says, 4.9 million--more than two in five poor children--were in families with incomes below half the poverty level, which would amount to less than $6,338 for a family of four.

The report says the growth in child poverty in the 1980’s was most pronounced for children under age 6, the group “most vulnerable to developmental delay and damage caused by inadequate nutrition or health care.”

‘Misleading Stereotypes’

It also calls common stereotypes of child poverty “misleading,” noting that a higher percentage of poor children live outside central cities and that earnings from employment, rather than welfare, are the largest source of income for poor families with children.

While noting that children in female-headed families are more likely to be poor, the report also points out that two in five poor children are in families with a father present.

The report attributes the increase in child poverty to such factors as a decline in wages and spending cuts in the 1980’s. It also highlights a decline in the effectiveness and disparities in the distribution of government cash-payment programs.

If recession-and-recovery patterns of the 1980’s are repeated in the 1990’s, the report projects, the child poverty rate will reach 22.8 percent by the year 2000.

Steps toward easing child poverty urged in the report--which is the product of a research team headed by James D. Weill, the c.d.f.'s general counsel, and Clifford M. Johnson, head of the group’s family-support division--include a refundable children’s tax credit and a government- insured system of providing adequate child-support payments for children not living with both parents.

Copies of the report, “Child Poverty in America,” are available for $4.50 each from the Children’s Defense Fund, 122 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.

A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 1991 edition of Education Week as Portrait of Poor Children Defies Stereotype, C.D.F. Report Says