Education Funding

Report Finds Child Poverty Rising in the States

By Sean Cavanagh — December 30, 2011 2 min read
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The “Great Recession” and its aftermath have taken a severe toll on the nation’s children, with poverty rates among young people having increased in each of the last four years and likely to continue to climb in the near term, a recent report shows.

The nation’s child poverty rate rose from 18 percent to 22 percent from 2007 to 2010, according the the report, “The Recession’s Ongoing Impact on America’s Children: Indicators of Children’s Economic Well-Being Through 2011,” released by the Brookings Institution.

During that period the number of poor children surged by 3 million, to 16 million, author Julia B. Isaacs found. Those figures are based on U.S. Census Bureau poverty measures, or the portion of children in families with incomes below the official poverty threshold, which is roughly $17,000 for a family of three and $22,000 for a family of four.

“In addition to humanitarian concerns about the immediate well-being of children, there is disturbing evidence that poverty has negative effects on children’s development, with some effects persisting into adulthood,” the report says. "[T]he lingering negative effects of poverty are strongest when poverty is experienced during early childhood, when poverty lasts for several years of childhood, or both.”

Child poverty varies greatly in the states. Mississippi had the highest poverty rate, at 32.5 percent, followed by the District of Columbia and New Mexico, while New Hamsphire’s rate had the lowest one, at 10 percent.

There have also been significant geographic shifts in child poverty in recent years. Before the recession, child poverty was concentrated mostly in the Southern and Southwestern United States, the report notes. But since the recession it has worsened significantly in a number of Midwestern and Western states.

The severe impact of the economy on children and families is evident in other data, too, the report explains. About 6.5 million children under age 18 were living in families with an unemployed parent during an average month of 2011—a jump from 3.8 million in late 2007, when the recession officially began. However, the number of children with out-of-work parents fell between 2010 and 2011.

The upswing in child poverty is consistent with trends over the past half-century, in that poverty among children and working-age adults has risen and fallen with changes in the overall unemployment rate, according to Brookings. Poverty among the elderly, on the other hand, has declined over the past 50 years, partly as a result of government programs such as Social Security and Supplemental Security Income, the report says.

The bleak financial conditions are striking children and families at a time when resources from the federal and state levels are being squeezed, as Isaacs points out. Federal stimulus funds directed at helping children are evaporating, and many Capitol Hill lawmakers are calling for stanching the money flow from Washington. While state revenues have increased recently, state governments continue to struggle to provide funding for children and families, Brookings says.

The nation’s lingering economic woes, of course, are evident in the classrooms, as well as family households. Many states, as we’ve reported, have made deep cuts to K-12 education during this same period, resulting in layoffs and job losses through attrition, larger class sizes, and reductions in programs and services.

“The economy may have begun its slow recovery,” the report says, “but conditions are not yet improving for children in the most vulnerable families.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.