Child Poverty Among Blacks and Hispanics Persists as U.S. Fails to Address Its Causes

Two new reports document very troubling rates of high poverty among children in the United States. As a society we ought to be ashamed that we tolerate devastating child poverty and residential economic segregation without concerted policy strategies to ameliorate challenges for the children.  African American children are most seriously affected.

In the NY Times, Sabrina Tavernise summarizes new data from the Pew Research Center:  “Black children were almost four times as likely as white children to be living in poverty in 2013, a new report has found….  (T)he poverty rate has remained stable for black children, while it fell for Hispanic, white and Asian children, a sign of just how pervasive and stubborn poverty has been for African American children…. About 38.3 percent of black children lived in poverty in 2013, nearly four times the rate for white children, at 10.7 percent.  About 30.4 percent of Hispanic children and 10.1 percent of Asian children live in poverty.  For the first time since the federal government started collecting the data, the number of black children in poverty appears to have overtaken the number of poor white children, even though white children far outnumber black children in the American population…”  The federal poverty rate is currently $23,624 for a family of four.

Reporting that the economy is finally rebounding but that child poverty remains alarmingly high for African American and Hispanic families, the Annie E. Casey Foundation explores the same problem in its 2015 Kids Count Data Book, released earlier this week: “Although new job growth has occurred at all wage levels, it has been disproportionate in low-wage sectors, such as retail and food services, and in some of the lower-wage positions within health care and home care.  And a stagnating federal minimum wage has exacerbated low wages.  During the last three months of 2014, the unemployment rate for whites and Asian Americans was roughly 4.5 percent, compared with a devastating 11 percent for African Americans and 6.7 percent for Latinos…  As of April 2015, 17.6 percent of African American workers and 14.4 percent of Latino workers were jobless or working only part time when they wanted full-time work.” “Compounding this issue, low-wage hourly jobs are increasingly subject to unpredictable and irregular schedules, which makes it difficult for parents to arrange child care and transportation; erratic schedules also lead to volatile incomes.”

The Annie E. Casey Foundation advocates a “two-generation approach” to helping America’s poorest children.  “The best way to facilitate optimal outcomes for today’s children is to address their needs, while providing tools and assistance to their parents.”  Parents need jobs that pay a living wage: “State and federal programs that boost income, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), help individual families a great deal.  But ultimately, we cannot sustain a healthy national economy without more jobs that pay higher wages… Individuals who are willing to work hard should be able to provide for their families.  We don’t need to accept the current proliferation of low-quality jobs as inevitable.”  “Higher pay, paid sick  and family leave, employee input into scheduling, and Unimployment Insurance benefits during temporary spells of unemployment can make a world of difference in the lives of workers and their children by boosting family income, reducing parental stress, and increasing parents’ capacity to invest in their kids”

Residentially concentrated poverty—growing residential segregation by income—has increased significantly according to the new 2015 Kids Count: “One of the most troubling trends for child well-being is that the percentage of children living in concentrated poverty continues to increase.  In 2009, 9 percent of children lived in census tracts where the poverty rate of the total population was 30 percent or more.  That figure rose to 14 percent for the period from 2009-2013.”  Back in 2011, Sean Reardon a sociologist at Stanford University, released massive data reports confirming the connection of school achievement gaps to growing economic inequality and residential patterns becoming rapidly more segregated by income across America’s large metropolitan areas. Reardon documented that across America’s metropolitan areas the proportion of families living in either very poor or very affluent neighborhoods increased from 15 percent in 1970 to 33 percent by 2009, and the proportion of families living in middle income neighborhoods declined from 65 percent in 1970 to 42 percent in 2009.  Reardon also demonstrated that along with growing residential inequality is a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality school achievement gap among children and adolescents.  According to Reardon’s research, the achievement gap between students with income in the top ten percent and students with income in the bottom ten percent is 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975.

This blog recently covered a new report by Emma Garcia at the Economic Policy Institute that reached exactly the same conclusion as the new Kids Count. Garcia makes concrete suggestions for closing the opportunity gaps among children that exist long before the children reach Kindergarten.  She endorses expanding the affordability, availability and quality of child care and pre-Kindergarten education.  She also advocates improving funding and programming in the public schools in our poorest communities.  But she adds: “The most straightforward way to decrease poverty among children and thus increase the resources available to them is to boost their parents’ incomes” including “policies aimed at increasing  overall wages and employment, especially at the lower rungs of the employment and wage ladders.” “Raising the minimum wage would also help ensure that parents working full-time do not have to rely on public assistance to provide their children with the basic necessities… We could also make those wages go further by increasing the earned income tax credit and child tax credit….  Raising incomes for middle-and low-social class families is key to ensuring their children do not grow up in poverty… Closing education gaps… calls for policies that address…  structural factors that influence a child’s odds of growing up poor.”

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