Child Poverty Rampant in Many of Biggest U.S. Cities

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Detroit Public Schools Book Depository

Thomas Hank / Flickr

Detroit has the highest level of child poverty in the nation, according to new statistics. In this 2010 photo, the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository has been abandoned since a fire in 1987. As Detroit's population has contracted, many schools have closed and are now shuttered and abandoned.

Child poverty increased in 35 of the biggest U.S. cities in the past eight years, and millions of children now live in families barely scraping by, a new analysis shows.

Among the 50 biggest cities, Detroit; Cleveland; Fresno, Calif.; Memphis, Tenn., and Miami had the highest rates of children living in poverty in 2013, according to an analysis by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau. The analysis tracked childhood poverty from 2005 through 2013.

“These numbers underscore that millions of children are living in families who are barely getting by economically, which can affect their well-being and their ability to succeed as adults,” said Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform and data at the Casey Foundation, in a statement.

“Now more than ever, the future prosperity of the United States depends on our ability to foster the health and well-being of the next generation.”

In Detroit, a staggering 59 percent of children lived in poverty in 2013, followed by Cleveland, with 54 percent; Fresno, 48 percent; Memphis, 46 percent; and Miami, 44 percent.

The federal poverty threshold for a family of four in 2013 was about $23,850.

Children Living Below the Federal Poverty Level

The poverty threshold for a family of four in 2013 was about $23,850. The margin of error for each city varies between 1.8 and 3.4%.

The analysis comes when new U.S. Census figures show the first decline in the national child poverty rate since it began climbing in 2008, during the recession. Many cities had declines from 2012 to 2013.

But the child poverty rate in the majority of the biggest U.S. cities has yet to return to pre-recession levels.

The latest U.S. Census figures, released in September, show nearly one in five children in the United States lived in poverty last year, with a much higher proportion of poverty among African-American and Hispanic children.

Overall, the number of children living in poverty declined slightly from 21.8 percent of all children, or 16.07 million, in 2012 to 19.9 percent, or 14.66 million, in 2013.

Nearly 37 percent of African-American children and just over 30 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty in 2013, determined by the income of their household.

Las Vegas; Jacksonville, Fla.; Phoenix; Seattle, and Indianapolis had the biggest increase in rates of children living in poverty between 2005 and 2013.

Ed Walz, a spokesman for First Focus — a bipartisan, Washington-based advocacy organization that strives to make children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions — called the findings disturbing.

“This data is troubling because research shows that growing up in poverty has lifelong effects — less academic progress, worse health and lower wages as adults,” Walz said in an email. “Congress’ failure to address child poverty today will cost the nation for decades to come.”

He said the analysis provides the latest indicator that children and their families continue to struggle.

Walz noted the analysis came on the heels of U.S. Education Department statistics showing a record 1.3 million homeless schoolchildren in the 2012-13 school year, up 8 percent from the previous school year.

“What policymakers — and the voters who elect them — need to understand is that child poverty is high because we haven’t found the will to reduce it, not because we don’t know how,” Walz said.

“Federal initiatives like Social Security, Medicare and tax subsidies for employer-sponsored retirement plans have all helped to deliver a poverty rate among senior citizens that’s less than half the child poverty rate. The federal government knows how to make real progress on poverty. For kids, they just haven’t.”

Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Washington-based Coalition on Human Needs, said the “alarming” extent of child poverty did not come as a surprise.

“I’ve been looking harder at those numbers myself, and see the same evidence of extremely high concentrations of poverty, both for children and everyone, in many cities across the nation,” Weinstein said in an email.

“It remains a blot on our nation that we continue to leave millions of children in poverty, and there is no national commitment to help their parents earn more in jobs that provide their families with security.”

Weinstein called on lawmakers to raise the minimum wage and make “urgently needed” investments in schools, transit, health care and renewable energy that create jobs and build economic growth in cities.

Large cities with the lowest child poverty rates in 2013 were San Francisco, 12 percent; Virginia Beach, Va., 13 percent; Colorado Springs, Colo., 14 percent; San Jose, Calif., 17 percent; and Seattle, 17 percent.

Casey’s KIDS COUNT Data Center has been updated with economic data from the U.S. Census 2013 American Community Survey, including the numbers and rates of children living in families with incomes below the federal poverty line.