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Child Poverty in America: Headed in the Right Direction But Hold the Appluase

Thursday, November 10, 2016

In September 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report on poverty and income in the United States. The update is packed with good news.

For one, America’s poverty rate fell from 14.8 percent in 2014 to 13.5 percent in 2015 — the largest one-year drop in our nation’s poverty rate since 1968.

Also noteworthy: every statistically significant change in poverty reported from 2014 to 2015 moved in the right direction, with lower poverty rates now in place for the different demographic groups under review.

This positive shift is the direct result of policies and practices that have helped build a stronger, wider safety net for millions of America’s children and families. Case in point: Refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, lifted 4.8 million kids out of poverty in 2015.

But even though things are moving in the right direction, those of us who share a commitment to improving the lives of low-income families and their children are not ready to take a victory lap.
More than 43 million Americans — and 14.5 million children — still live in poverty. And our nation’s poverty rate remains one percentage point higher than it was before the Great Recession.

Even more, the Census Bureau’s data suggest that deep economic disparities persist for certain Americans. Three groups in particular are experiencing poverty far more frequently than the national rate of 13.5 percent:


Kids represent 23 percent of all Americans but nearly 34 percent of those living in poverty. In 2015, the child poverty rate hovered around 20 percent. The rate was slightly higher for those younger than age 6.

Children in Households Led by Women

In 2015, the poverty rate for children in households run only by women was an astounding 42.6 percent, representing 7.9 million kids. By comparison, the rate for kids in married-couple families fell just shy of 10 percent, representing 4.8 million children.

African-American and Latino Children

In 2015, 33 percent of black kids and 29 percent of Latino kids lived below the poverty line — in sharp contrast to 12 percent of their white and Asian peers.

These disparate poverty rates underscore the fact that America remains a land of uneven opportunity for many. Some of our youngest citizens are already facing steep obstacles simply because their families are struggling to make ends meet — a reality that’s easily lost in the big picture progress check. The real measure of how far we’ve come should be in how we do better by these kids.

The Foundation’s recommendations to policymakers on this front focus on advancing a two-generation approach to poverty by investing in programs, such as education, home-visiting and job-training initiatives, that address the needs of both parents and children. These recommendations include:

  • boosting access to high-quality pre-K and early childhood programs so that all kids start with a solid foundation and are prepared to succeed in school;
  • expanding access to higher education and job training so that every child has the chance to realize his or her potential;
  • connecting more low-income parents to the Earned Income Tax Credit so that these workers can devote additional resources to their children; and
  • offering paid family and sick leave to give parents the necessary flexibility to balance their obligations at home and at work.

Taking these steps will continue to push our nation’s poverty rate in the right direction while helping to level life’s playing field for all children. 
When every child in America has an equal shot at success, it will be a victory truly worth celebrating.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report on poverty and income draws data from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey.

Originally published by Medium
Author: Patrick McCarthy, President & CEO at the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Published on November 10, 2016

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