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Posts By Sara Edelstein


Bio: Sara Edelstein is a Research Associate II in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute. At UI, her research has focused on asset building among low-income households, alternative financial services, work support programs, and childhood poverty. She earned her M.P.P from Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute.
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Child Poverty for Minorities is Highest in Small, Majority-White Metros

Author: Sara Edelstein

| Posted: February 18th, 2013

My last post revealed that in McAllen, Texas, a shocking 47 percent of children live below the poverty line. Unfortunately, the news gets worse when we look at child poverty by race for the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

In Scranton, Pennsylvania, the poverty rate for children overall is 21 percent, which is barely above the national average—but for black children, the rate is 59 percent, or roughly three in five children. Scranton’s rate is actually higher than black child poverty rates in metro areas with much larger black populations, such as Jackson, Mississippi (38 percent). The same is true for Hispanic child poverty rates: they’re usually worse in small, majority-white metro areas that don’t have the worst child poverty overall.

Searching for the 10 areas with the worst black and Hispanic child poverty takes us out of small metro areas in the West, South, and Southwest—where overall child poverty tends to be highest—and into even smaller metro areas in the Northeast and Midwest.

In Scranton, not only is black child poverty highest, but Hispanic child poverty is ranked fourth at 47 percent (see figure 1). Syracuse and Buffalo, New York, are both among the top 10 for black children (50 and 48 percent) and Hispanic children (41 and 43 percent).

What’s striking in these and the other metro areas shown here is the discrepancy between the white child poverty rate and the black or Hispanic rate. Scranton’s black child poverty rate is 43 percentage points higher than its white rate; in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the difference is 44 percentage points, the largest among all 100 metro areas. Milwaukee and Madison also have very high inequality in terms of poverty.

Poverty is worst for Hispanic children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where over half (51 percent) are poor (see figure 2). The white vs. Hispanic poverty gap is largest there and in Springfield and Worcester, Massachusetts. In Worcester, only 7 percent of white children but 41 percent of Hispanic children live in poverty.

Also notable is that the 20 metro areas shown here are majority white, except for McAllen, Texas, where 95 percent of children are Hispanic. And while some of these metros also have very high poverty for white children (McAllen ranks first, Youngstown second, Chattanooga fourth, and Scranton sixth), most do not. Milwaukee; Madison; Springfield; Worcester; and Rochester, New York, don’t even rank in the top 50.

Many areas in the country have profound child poverty, especially among minority children. As our minority populations grow, it is likely child poverty will as well. It’s clear that when we talk about child poverty, we can’t ignore race.

Filed under: Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, Child welfare, Children, Economic well-being, Kids in Context, Metro, Poverty, Poverty, Vulnerability, and the Safety Net, Race, Ethnicity, and Gender, Racial and ethnic disparities
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High Rates of Child Poverty Hidden in Smaller Metro Areas

Author: Sara Edelstein

| Posted: February 8th, 2013

If you were to spend a day in McAllen, Texas, every other child you saw would be living in poverty. The McAllen metropolitan area’s child poverty rate is an astounding 47 percent—and unfortunately, it is not alone in having a troublingly high rate of poverty.

Poverty during childhood, which increased considerably in the Great Recession, has dangerous consequences later in life. My colleagues Signe-Mary McKernan and Caroline Ratcliffe find that children who are poor for half their childhoods are 90 percent more likely to reach age 20 without completing high school and four times more likely to have a child as a teen, compared with children who are never poor. These negative consequences increase the longer a child is in poverty. Given this, and other similar findings, should we be worried about today’s children?

In short, yes, and especially if we consider our nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, where many poor children live. The largest of these—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas—have the largest populations of poor children because they have the most people in general. But many less-talked-about metro areas have markedly higher rates of child poverty. The areas with the 10 worst poverty rates are not even among the 50 largest metro areas. For overall child poverty, McAllen takes the top spot, followed by El Paso, Texas, where a third (35 percent) of children live in poverty. Two California metro areas—Fresno and Bakersfield—rank third and fourth. The remaining top 10 metro areas are in the south, with the exception of Youngstown, Ohio.

What makes these metro areas different from others?

First, in 9 out of 10 metros, the majority of the child population is minority. In McAllen and El Paso, which both border Mexico, 95 and 87 percent of children are Hispanic; in Fresno and Bakersfield, 61 percent. Only Youngstown’s child population is majority (78 percent) white.

Moreover, poverty rates for minority children in these 10 areas are much higher than those for white children, consistent with the national pattern, and usually more pronounced. In McAllen, 48 percent of Hispanic children are poor, as are 46 percent of black and 40 percent of Hispanic children in Fresno. In Memphis, only 9 percent of white children live in poverty, but over 40 percent of black and Hispanic children do. Granted, some of these areas also rank highly in terms of white child poverty: McAllen (#1); Youngstown (#2); Lakeland, Florida (#3); and Bakersfield (#5). But even in McAllen, no more than one in five white children is poor, which is less than half the rate for Hispanic children.

Are these minority child poverty rates the worst to be found in our country? Could there be other metropolitan areas where the overall child poverty rate is not notable, but poverty among black and Hispanic children is extremely prevalent? This will be the subject of my next post.

Filed under: Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, Children, Economic well-being, Kids in Context, Metro, Poverty, Poverty, Vulnerability, and the Safety Net
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Does government spending by age reflect a commitment to early intervention?

Author: Sara Edelstein

| Posted: October 9th, 2012

The growing research consensus is that intervening early in children’s lives is key to their future well-being. Programs such as Head Start aim to positively influence children’s development early on and lessen the chances of difficulties later. But on a larger scale, how much does government actually invest in young children compared with older children? When we look at many forms of spending, not just early care and education programs, what do the numbers reveal about government’s priorities for children?

Our recent Kids’ Share analysis helps answer this question by examining government spending on children by age. We find that in 2011, federal per capita expenditures—including both direct spending from federal programs (outlays) and reductions in tax burdens—were highest for infants and toddlers, age 0–2, ($6,578) and shrank as children entered older age groups (ages 3–5, 6–11, and 12–18).

One reason for this pattern is that young children, who tend to have younger parents with lower wages, have higher poverty rates than older children—25.3 percent of infants and toddlers were below the federal poverty level in 2011, compared with only 18.5 percent of secondary school-age children. As a result, they receive a disproportionate share of federal safety net programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as Food Stamps), especially during a recession. Medicaid spending is particularly targeted toward younger children, totaling $1,792 per infant or toddler—about double the program’s spending on each of the other age groups.

Focusing only on federal spending, however, offers an incomplete picture. When we also look at how much state and local governments spend on children, we find that school-age children receive a much larger share of state and local spending than infants and toddlers. In 2008—our most recent year of state and local spending estimates, and one in which the pattern of federal spending by age is similar to that of 2011—states spent over $10,000 on each elementary or secondary school-age child, but only about $1,300 on each infant or toddler and about $4,600 on each preschool-age child.

Per Capita Federal and State/Local Spending on Children in 2008, By Age

The majority of states’ spending was on public education, which usually doesn’t begin until age 5 or 6 and is largely funded by the states. This presents a practical barrier to early intervention: if the largest avenue through which government serves most children is public school, and the youngest children do not attend school, how can we serve them? Should the federal government invest even more in children under age 5? Or is the distribution of total government spending, at all levels, fine as it is? This report cannot answer these questions, but it does show that the fiscal health and funding decisions of all levels of government matter when it comes to investments in children.

Filed under: Adolescents and Youth, Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, Child welfare, Children, Cross-Center Initiatives, Early childhood education, Economic well-being, Economic well-being, Economic well-being, Education and Training, Elementary/secondary schools, Families, Geographies, Head Start and elementary education, Kids in Context, National (US), Policy Centers, Taxes and Budget
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