By Eric Levitz
A higher percentage of American children live in poverty today than did at the start of the Great Recession, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The report, released on Tuesday, found that America’s child poverty rate rose from 18% in 2008 to 22% in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. The Great Recession began in December 2007 and officially ended in July 2009, when the economy posted its first quarter of economic growth following the subprime mortgage collapse.
That increase testifies to how little the economic recovery has been felt in America’s poorest households. While the top 1% of wage earners saw their real incomes grow by 34.7% in the post-recession years, hourly wages for the vast majority of workers fell over the same period, according to data from Berkley economist Emmanuel Saez and the Economic Policy Institute.
That top-heavy growth has left nearly a quarter of America’s children living below the poverty line, which the government defines as $23,624 for a family of two adults and two children – less than half of what such a family would minimally require for economic security, according to the report.
Poverty can hamper a child’s development even before she’s born, heightening the risk of low-birth weight and the complex health problems associated with it. Once out of the womb, impoverished children are more likely to be exposed to toxins from inadequate housing and have difficulty focusing at school due to poor nutrition. According to the report, their parents are more likely to adapt to financial stress in pathological ways – through depression, substance abuse and domestic violence.
The costs of these deprivations aren’t borne by the child alone – the taxpayer is also hurt when a child’s frustrated development compromises her productivity later in life. A study conducted by Stanford University in 2011 found that when families with annual incomes below $25,000 were given an additional $3,000 during their children’s preschool years, those children enjoyed a 17% increase in their earnings as adults.
To improve the development and well-being of the nation’s children, the report recommends increasing funding for preschool education, providing social and emotional counseling for new parents, and stimulating employment through publicly funded infrastructure projects.
Here’s a rundown of some the report’s other notable findings:
African-American children are nearly three times as likely to live in poverty as whites
Nearly 40% of all African-American children live below the poverty line, compared with only 14% of whites. The poverty rate among Native American and Hispanic children is nearly as severe as that of African-Americans, at 37% and 33%, respectively.
More children are living in high-poverty neighborhoods
When children grow up in areas where over 30% of the population is impoverished, their development suffers whether or not they are in poverty themselves. This is because areas of concentrated poverty expose them to high rates of crime and violence while isolating them from high-performing schools and employment opportunities.
As of 2013, 14% of children were living in such neighborhoods, up from 9% in 2000.
Nearly one-third of African-American children live in areas of concentrated poverty, as do 30% of Latino children.
The percentage of children attending preschool has decreased
Despite increased cultural awareness of early childhood education’s importance, the percentage of children who receive it ticked down by 1 percentage point between 2008 and 2013. At present, only 46% of American children attend preschool.
More children are growing up in single-parent families
Thirty-five percent of children lived in a single-parent household in 2013, up from 32% in 2008. More than two-thirds of African-American children live with a single parent.
Child poverty is most severe in the South and Southwest
The report found that the 10 states with the highest rates of child poverty were all located in the South and Southwest, while the 10 states with the lowest rates were in the Midwest and New England.
Notable gains made in children’s health and education
The report did find improvements in several non-economic measures of childhood well-being. Thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, only 7% of American children lacked health insurance in 2013, down from 10% in 2008. And the rates of substance abuse and teenage deaths also declined over the same period.
While preschool attendance dipped, other measures of educational attainment improved – both the percentage of fourth graders proficient in reading and of high school students graduating on time increased since the Great Recession.