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Child poverty up in 2011; effects can span lifetime

Published: Friday, Sept. 21 2012 11:06 p.m. MDT

More than one in five American children live in poverty — and nearly half live below twice the federal poverty guideline, according to the latest government estimates.

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More than one in five children in America live in poverty — and nearly half live below twice the federal poverty guideline, according to analysis based on the latest government estimates. Researchers warn that poverty confers disadvantages that some children are unlikely to overcome entirely in terms of education, health and other measures over the course of their lifetimes.

Children in poverty have "poorer physical outcomes, worse cognitive outcomes and riskier social outcomes." And the risks are greater to children below age 6, said MaryBeth J. Mattingly, director of family poverty research at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. She and colleagues analyzed the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey 2011 and discussed it with reporters during a webinar Friday, a day after the bureau released its ACS estimates.

The survey shows that the overall child poverty rate for the United States rose slightly from 21.6 percent in 2010 to 22.5 percent in 2011, meaning that 16.4 million children live in poverty. More than 6 million of those children are younger than 6.

"We focus on child poverty for three primary reasons: first, for well over three decades, children have been the age group most likely to live below the poverty line, with young children being particularly vulnerable," the study said. "Second, children often benefit less than seniors from America's primary social safety net programs. Third, research consistently documents lasting impact of child poverty across a wide range of health, educational and occupational outcomes. These consequences are often worse for young children."

Poverty levels rose at least slightly in 41 states, the Carsey researchers said, and even in the five states and Washington, D.C., where poverty numbers improved a bit, they were still above prerecession levels.

Officially, the recession ended in June 2009. But the recovery has been "very, very slow," said Carsey researchers Jessica A. Bean.

Poverty is defined by the U.S. government as a family of four with a household annual income of $22,811.

While the annual increase was modest, it's a 4.5 percent increase from prerecession poverty rates in 2007, noted Bean, and more than 32 million children live below 200 percent of poverty.

Of even more concern, she and Mattingly said, 7.3 million or one in 10 children live in what researchers call "deep poverty," meaning they are in households with incomes less than half the poverty threshold for their family size. Deep poverty rose slightly in every region between 2010 and 2011, they said.

New Hampshire had the lowest percentage of children living in poverty at 12 percent, while Mississippi has the highest at 32 percent. Mattingly said Hawaii had the largest one-year change, while Vermont has seen the largest overall increase. By region, the South fared the worst, then the West. And poverty is much higher in central cities and rural America than the suburbs, she said, noting that more children live in the cities.

Bean noted that the government didn't look specifically at male-headed single-parent households, but that those headed by females consistently had higher poverty rates than married households. Data isn't broken out, either, for households where children are being raised by grandparents.

She said, too, that higher educational attainment translated to lower poverty levels and that white households consistently have lower poverty rates than others.

Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard University, told the Associated Press that several just-released economic indicators point to a "fragile recovery," but noted the country's economic situation is precarious, with a relapse not out of the question. "Given the situation in the world economy, we are doing better than many other countries," he said. "Government policies remain critical."

The American Community Survey looks at people, housing and the economy for all communities and is used by planners, retailers, government and more. The U.S. Census Bureau said it is "the only source of local estimates for most of the 40 topics it covers, such as educational attainment, occupation, language spoken at home, nativity, ancestry and selected monthly homeowner costs down to the smallest communities."

A searchable-by-location database can be found online at Factfinder2.census.gov.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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