The Detriment of Disadvantage

Dec 06, 2011

By Stephanie Schmit

Research has long shown the detrimental effects of poverty on child well-being. Two recent reports (from Child Trends and Pew) offer even more insight into poverty status of children and parents and the long-term effects of child poverty.

Unfortunately, the latest Census data show that poverty continues to increase for young children. From 2009 to 2010 the poverty rate for children under age 6 increased to 24.8 percent. About one in 10 children lived in extreme poverty in 2010, meaning they are in families living below 50 percent of the federal poverty threshold.  Poverty impacts children disproportionately by age. Children under age 5 experience higher levels of poverty than children ages 5 to 17. Furthermore, children living in single-mother households were more than twice as likely as children living in married-couple households to be low-income, according to a recent report from Child Trends. In fact, single-mother families were hit hardest in 2010 with a poverty rate of 40.7 percent.

More children in poverty means more children face obstacles that impede proper development, and more of them are at risk of being poor adults.  Among developed countries, children in the United States are the least likely to move up the economic ladder, according to a recent Pew report on economic mobility. The report shows children's family backgrounds such as parental educational attainment affect them early on, limiting school readiness, cognitive abilities and social behaviors. All of these factors make it difficult for a child to move upward and be economically secure as an adult and contribute to society in a meaningful way.

These recent reports and poverty data should be a wake-up call to policymakers: we're failing our youngest children. To help families and ensure that children are able to learn, grow and be economically mobile, we must pay attention to child poverty.  Child care assistance is critical to helping single mothers go to work, which both increases household income and benefits child well-being. We also know that two-generational approaches in early childhood, including home visiting and Head Start, can improve the odds for children by supporting the needs of the whole family.

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