Children in poverty in 2012
More than one in five American children lives in poverty, according to recent Census data. That’s more than 16 million children. Persistently high unemployment is a big part of the problem, as families struggle to keep and hold jobs in the wake of the recession.
Another part of the problem is that the recession has also hurt the programs families rely on. Since the government raises less revenue when the economy is slow, many in Congress will push for broad budget cuts. Because of “the future debt we’ll leave our children,” America must make federal budget cuts, the platitude goes. But it is precisely our children’s future that Congress could end up cutting.
Programs for children and families are the softest targets for policymakers desperate to make cuts. Policymakers have been eyeing Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start and other programs for deep cuts. Yet these are the programs have been an important safety net for more and more American families as they deal with their own budget crises.
Addressing government debt is important, but so is the crisis facing American families. But when family budgets are tight, the kids come first; government budgets should be no different.
Policies, solutions and support for children in poverty
Reducing poverty is an important issue to the Voices network. At the state level, close to half of VOICES members are taking on at least some aspect of reducing poverty as a public policy goal. Six VOICES member organizations have launched statewide campaigns to reduce child poverty. Legislative activities within the network focus on providing work supports to low-income families from the perspective that reducing child poverty means providing adequate supports to their parents.
The unemployment rate remains high at 8.5 percent, meaning more families depending on safety programs. Lost jobs have meant more families threatened by hunger, and demand for food stamps is up sharply. Lost jobs often mean lost family health benefits, and now more than 30 million children nationwide depend on Medicaid for care.
Recommendations for reducing poverty include instituting a living wage, the greater use and promotion of tax credits (such as EITC), asset development and saving initiatives, affordable housing, health care, food stamps and other nutrition programs, and child care subsidies.
Child poverty and race
Child poverty is not simply a function of economics or geography but complex social phenomena, with significant disparities by race. Children who are Hispanic or Black have the highest child poverty rates at 27 percent and 33 percent, compared to White and Asian children, who have lower rates at 14 and 12 percent. Herein is another opportunity to improve public policy interventions for children by examining child poverty through a racial lens.
Single Parents and Work Supports
While the causes of child poverty are myriad, some dynamics are much easier to identify. First, it is well documented that families matter. Census data indicate that child poverty rates differ according to family structure. For example, children in single parent families have higher poverty rates than those in married-couple families.
Comparing all families, the poverty rate for children in families led by single mothers is 42 percent; single fathers 21 percent, compared to 8 percent of children in married-couple families. From these data, children from homes led by single mothers have higher poverty rates, but the challenge for policymakers is to devise effective work supports for these and other single parent families.
The need for policy initiatives to support single parent families becomes even more apparent when child poverty rates are disaggregated by race and by family structure. One can see that across racial categories, children in married-couple families have lower poverty rates than those in single parent homes.
Child poverty statistics by region
Child poverty also differs according to geography, with rates being higher in cities at 19 percent than in suburban areas, 10 percent,. Similarly, child poverty rates are higher in rural areas than urban areas, 13 percent compared to 18 percent, respectively. When looking across the country, child poverty is lowest in the New England region (9 percent) and highest in the South (19 percent). Despite these top line numbers, not only do child poverty rates vary between states, but there are wide disparities in both income and poverty rates within states.