2013 Poverty Data: A Glimpse of Good News for Children, But We Can Do Better

Sep 16, 2014

By Hannah Matthews

For the first time since 2000, the overall child poverty rate fell, according to U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey (CPS) data released today on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the year 2013. This is good news. The numbers indicate a return from the extraordinarily high child poverty rates experienced during the depths of the recession. But these decreases don’t diminish the unacceptably high number of children still living in poor families, particularly our youngest children and Black and Hispanic children.

While the poverty rate for young children under age 5 fell from 24 percent in 2012 to 22 percent in 2013, young children still retain the unfortunate distinction of having the highest poverty rates among any age group. The rate is higher yet for young Black children and young Hispanic children (44 percent and 33 percent respectively). And contrary to other trends in the annual data, the poverty rate for young Black children actually grew by 1.2 percent.

While an emergent economic recovery has helped some families, it remains deeply unsettling that one in five young children lives in poverty. The profound consequences of early childhood poverty are well documented and manifest in negative child and adult outcomes in school, employment, and earnings. The prevalence of poverty is highest during the earliest, most formative years of children’s lives:  infancy and toddlerhood. As a country, we cannot afford to leave so many young children in challenging circumstances; the negative lifetime consequences across education, health, and other key outcomes are severe.

According to the Census Bureau, increases in full-time, year-round employment among parents contributed to the decline in child poverty. Almost 70 percent of poor children live in families with at least one worker, and 30 percent of poor children live in families with at least one full-time, year round worker. Among children in low-income families (200 percent of the poverty level or below), more than half (54 percent) live with a full-time, year round worker.

But while employment has increased, many parents are in jobs that pay poverty-level wages or are involuntarily working less than full time. The quality of jobs matters, too, especially for parents raising children.  Low wages often go hand in hand with few benefits, little stability in hours, and almost no opportunity for advancement. Without paid sick leave, parents can’t take a day off to care for a sick child without losing wages or even their jobs.  Unstable and unpredictable job schedules make it virtually impossible to maintain a regular child care arrangement. 

Every child in this country matters. So while it is significant that child poverty decreased in this single year, the real takeaway is that it demonstrates poverty is not unsolvable.  Full-time jobs help. Public policies do too. Top among the policies that will help working parents is making child care more affordable. Congress is expected to pass legislation very soon to improve child care quality and make receipt of child care assistance a smoother process for parents. That’s an important step.  However, we also need additional resources to expand access to child care assistance to help more working families.  

The decline in child poverty should motivate us to do even more to reduce poverty for children of all ages and all backgrounds.

Read CLASP’s fact sheet, New Census Data Tell Us That Poverty Fell in 2013: Children and Young Adults Still Face the Greatest Risks >>


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