Census: Nearly 1 in 5 Children in U.S. in Poverty

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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, new U.S. Census figures released Tuesday show.

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, the new figures show.

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.

“We have what we’re calling Depression-level rates of poverty for those groups, and we can’t forget about that,” said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Washington-based Coalition on Human Needs.

Weinstein, whose coalition is an alliance of national organizations that press for public policies that address the needs of low-income and other vulnerable populations, noted that African-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic groups that used to be referred to as minorities now constitute a majority when viewed together.

“This fall, more than half of America’s schoolchildren —50.3 percent — were Asian, African-American, Latino, Native American or other so-called ‘minorities,’ ” Weinstein said.

“As their numbers grow in the U.S. population, if their poverty continues at such high levels, the U.S. will be a poorer country, marked by more and more inequality. Addressing child poverty in the new ‘majority’ should be an urgent priority.”

And First Focus, a bipartisan, Washington-based advocacy organization that strives to make children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions, also expressed concern over the disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic children in poverty.

“High and persistent child poverty among Latino and African-American children is especially alarming,” said Ed Walz, a First Focus spokesman, said in an e-mail. “So, to the degree that Congress isn’t delivering child poverty solutions that work for African-American and Latino kids, they’re not solving the problem.”

The overall poverty rate for all Americans declined last year from the previous year for the first time since 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday. But there were no statistically significant changes in the number of people living in poverty or in real median household income.

For children under 18, the poverty rate dipped from the previous year for the first time since 2000, but, again, only slightly.

The poverty threshold for a family of four in 2013 was $23,834.

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

He said First Focus is urging lawmakers and policymakers to take a new approach to reducing childhood poverty, modeled on a decade-long British effort. Walz said the British effort has relied on a combination of welfare-to-work programs, improved tax credits for families, early-childhood programs, education and other priorities.

Childhood poverty in Britain declined more than 50 percent during the effort’s first decade (1999-2009) while America’s child-poverty rate rose by 20 percent during the same period, Walz said.

The new Census figures showed a 9.5 percent rate of poverty among senior citizens, less than half that of children, First Focus said in a news release. The federal government makes much more substantial investments to reduce poverty among the elderly than among children, it said.

Weinstein called on House lawmakers to support unemployment insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), both of which have reduced poverty.

She pointed to new Census figures showing nearly 6.5 million children live below half the poverty line – or $9,500 in income for a family of three. “That’s hard to imagine somebody living on that little, but there are 8.9, nearly 9 percent of children who are that poor.”

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