Where Poor Children Live

November 29, 1989 1 min read

The popular image that poor children all live in broken homes in inner-city ghettos is a wrong one, according to a recent analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by a team of Harvard University professors.

Writing in the Sept. 8 issue of Science, Mary Jo Bane and David T. Ellwood of the university’s John F. Kennedy School of Government report that the majority of children in families whose incomes fall below the federal poverty level “do not exhibit the characteristics most people associate with the underclass.”

Instead, they write, throughout the 1980’s, roughly half of the nation’s poor children lived in two-parent homes (see chart). And about 45 percent of those households had at least one full-time wage earner.

In addition, in 1987 almost 30 percent of poor children lived in rural areas, and 28 percent lived in the suburbs. Data from 1980 show that fewer than 9 percent of poor children lived in the kind of high-poverty, inner-city slums that capture media attention, the authors state.

The authors conclude that poverty does not reflect deviant behavior by a minority in society, but rather is a reflection of the economic and social changes that affect all levels of American society.

A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 1989 edition of Education Week as Where Poor Children Live