The piercing cry of child poverty

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 10/5/2015, 12:47 p.m.
Pope Francis speaks out faithfully and forcefully against poverty and has been called “the pope of the poor.” But on ...

(NNPA) – Pope Francis speaks out faithfully and forcefully against poverty and has been called “the pope of the poor.” But on his first visit to the United States there was demoralizing news about poverty, especially child poverty, in our nation – the world’s largest economy.

Despite six years of economic recovery, children remain the poorest group in America.

Children are poor if they live in a family of four with an annual income below $24,418 – $2,035 a month, $470 a week, $67 a day. Extreme poverty is income less than half this.

New Census Bureau data reveal that nearly one-third of the 46.7 million poor people in the United States in 2014 were children. Of the more than 15.5 million poor children, 70 percent were children of color who already constitute the majority of our nation’s youngest children and will be the majority of all our children by 2020.

They continue to be disproportionately poor: 37 percent of Black children and 32 percent of Hispanic children are poor compared to 12 percent of White, non-Hispanic children. This is morally scandalous and economically costly. Every year we let millions of children remain poor costs our nation more than $500 billion as a result of lost productivity and extra health and crime costs stemming from child poverty.

The Black child poverty rate increased 10 percent between 2013 and 2014 while rates for children of other races and ethnicities declined slightly. The Black extreme child poverty rate increased 13 percent with nearly 1 in 5 Black children living in extreme poverty. Although the Hispanic child poverty rate fell slightly, Hispanic children remain our largest number of poor children.

Nearly 1 in 4 children under 5 years old are poor and almost half live in extreme poverty. More than 40 percent of Black children under 5 are poor and nearly 25 percent of young Black children are extremely poor.

New state data show child poverty rates in 2014 remained at record high levels across 40 states, with only 10 states showing significant declines between 2013 and 2014. In 22 states, 40 percent or more Black children were poor. In 32 states, more than 30 percent of Hispanic children were poor. And in 24 states, more than 30 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children were poor. Only Hawaii had a Black child poverty rate below 20 percent while only two states, Kentucky and West Virginia, had White, non-Hispanic child poverty rates over 20 percent.

The rates are staggering, especially when we know there are steps Congress could take right now to end child poverty and save taxpayer money now and in the future. In CDF’s recent Ending Child Poverty Now report based on an analysis by the nonpartisan Urban Institute, we proposed nine policy changes which would immediately reduce child poverty 60 percent and Black child poverty 72 percent and lift the floor of decency for 97 percent of all poor children by ensuring parents the resources to support and nurture their children: jobs with livable wages, affordable high-quality child care, supports for working families like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, and safety nets for basic needs like nutrition, housing assistance and child support.