Child Poverty Has Risen Even As Unemployment Falls

Even as unemployment has gradually declined, the child poverty rate has been on the rise, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of children living in poverty rose from 15.7 million to 16.4 million. The child poverty rate also rose from 19 to 23 percent from 2005 to 2011, representing an increase of 3 million children.

The rates are even worse for younger kids: Children age five and under have a poverty rate of 26 percent. They are also worse for racial minorities: African-American children have a 39 percent poverty rate, almost three times that of white children, who have a rate of 14 percent.

Their families also have high rates of poverty. In 2011, nearly half – 45 percent – of children lived in families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or $45,622 for a family of four. Families have also taken a hit from the recession. Nearly a third of children in the U.S., or 23.8 million, lived in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment in 2011, a figure that has risen by 3.6 million since 2008. The employment figures are also higher for racial minorities, as about half of African-American and American Indian children had no parent with full-time, year-round employment, compared to just a quarter of white children.

The rising poverty rates come amid some other improved metrics for the country’s children. The number of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool rose slightly between 2009 and 2011, although more than half are still not enrolled. The number of fourth graders reading below proficient levels improved in 2011 as compared to 2005 as well. Yet 68 percent still don’t read at this level. Poor children also fare worse: 82 percent of low-income fourth graders were not proficient in reading in 2011, compared to 52 percent of higher-income kids.

The report also finds good news for children’s health. Just 7 percent of children lacked health insurance in 2011, down from 10 percent in 2008. The number of low-birthweight babies has also plateaued over the past several years after gradually increasing.

Compared to 35 other countries, the U.S. ranks second-to-last in child poverty, only faring better than Romania and falling far behind Europe, Canada, and Australia, among others.

Yet the country is pulling back on programs that help the poor. Sequestration is expected to increase poverty and make it deeper for those already living below the line. It has already meant low-income children losing access to Head Start, and other programs that serve the poor are also expecting big cuts.

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