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Child poverty has stopped climbing - but it's stuck at high levels

Author: Olivia Healy

| Posted: September 13th, 2013

 

 

swingSet

Though we’re still a few days away from Tuesday’s release of the 2012 annual poverty numbers, it’s possible to paint a picture of the news we are likely to receive ahead of time, particularly when it comes to child poverty.

Using other readily available data, my colleague Julia Isaacs and I predicted 2012 state-by-state child poverty numbers in order to examine children’s well-being in advance of the official poverty release. Our estimates suggest that we are likely to see a leveling-off of child poverty rates, albeit at a considerably higher level than the before the recession.

Our child poverty predictions rely on historical American Community Survey (ACS) child poverty data, unemployment rates, and SNAP (food stamp) receipt. The Census Bureau recommends Current Population Survey (CPS) data for nationwide poverty estimates —those are what will be released Tuesday— and ACS for state-by-state statistics, which come out on Thursday. Nevertheless, our predictions have historically tracked national calculations closely.

What do we predict?

  • As in 2011, the national child poverty rate will remain close to 22 percent. Our model’s precise prediction is 22.4 percent for the ACS estimate; the actual rate may be half a percentage point higher or lower, judging from past experience. We expect Tuesday’s CPS numbers to be in the same ballpark, or slightly lower.
  • While child poverty rates appear to be leveling off, they remain much higher than before the recession. We 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).

What do next week’s numbers mean for children’s economic well-being?

If our predictions hold true, then more than one in five children are growing up in families with very low incomes (less than $18,000 for a family of three in 2011).

A wealth of evidence suggests poverty has myriad negative effects on children. Children in families with low incomes may have limited access to nutritious meals, live in neighborhoods with higher crime, or suffer from strained interactions with stressed parents– all of which can have negative consequences for children’s development.

These negative effects may also linger. Recent research from our Urban Institute colleagues details the startling consequences of child poverty years down the road.

So, the good news is that child poverty seems to have plateaued, consistent with the idea that the economy is slowly recovering. The bad news, of course, is that many children are living in poverty, and the picture is significantly worse than five years ago. Let’s keep this reality in mind next week when the poverty numbers are released, particularly as discussions of budget cuts to nutrition assistance and other key supports for families play out.

Swing set image from Shutterstock

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