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Child poverty rates predicted to remain high through 2012

Author: Julia Isaacs

| Posted: December 5th, 2012

Children’s economic well-being has shown little improvement over the past year, according to several measures. One positive sign is that the number of children with an unemployed parent is modestly down from a year ago. On the other hand, the economy remains weak and the number of families applying for nutrition assistance continues to rise in most states.

Child poverty rates, which provide the most direct measure of children’s economic well-being, are available with a time lag: 2012 poverty statistics will be available next September. To track children’s well-being in a more timely manner, I have developed state-by-state predictions for current child poverty, based on partial-year data on unemployment and nutrition assistance, and lagged child poverty rates. My latest predictions, released yesterday and depicted in the map below, suggest that child poverty will increase in 4 states (Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and New York) and decrease in 7 states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Carolina). The remaining 40 states will not see significant changes in the child poverty rate (i.e., changes larger than the margins of error surrounding the estimates).

I predict that the national child poverty rate will remain close to the 22.5 percent rate reported in the 2011 American Community Survey. The model’s precise prediction is 22.4 percent; the actual rate may be half a percentage point higher or lower, judging from past experience. Over the past two years, the model has correctly predicted the general upward trend in child poverty, and its predictions have been within 0.4 percentage points of the national rate.

While child poverty rates appear to be leveling off in 2012, they remain much higher than before the recession. I predict that twice as many states will have child poverty rates of 20 percent or higher in 2012 as before the recession (28 vs. 14 states).

These predictions and other measures show that millions of children and families are worse off than they were five years ago. As policymakers debate broad budgetary packages of spending cuts and revenue increases, it is important to recognize the recession’s ongoing impact on children and families. In my view, this is not the time to make major cuts in nutrition assistance or other major elements of the social safety net, given the large number of families still struggling to regain the economic ground lost during the recession.

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