When a Headline Isn't News: Child Poverty Persists

Sep 12, 2012

By Hannah Matthews

This post originally appeared September 12 on Huffington Post.

One in four young children under age 6 in the U.S. lives in poverty. But this fact, from today's U.S. Census report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in 2011, is not breaking news. In fact, perhaps one of the most troubling things about today's report is just how predictable these statistics are.

  • The poverty rate for young children remained unchanged at 24.5 percent. In 2011, there were 5.8 million children under age 6 living in poor families. Of them, 2.8 million children live in what's considered deep poverty--in households living under 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Our youngest children have the highest rates of poverty of any age group in the country. Children have higher poverty rates as compared to adults and among all children, infants and toddlers, are the most likely to live in poverty.
  • Child poverty is linked to a host of negative outcomes. Poverty is a strong predictor of children's success in school and adult employment and earnings. Poor children have less access to preventive health services and early education. The prevalence of poverty among the very youngest children means that during the first three years of life--a fundamental period of rapid brain growth and development--babies are deprived of the very resources they need to thrive.

Just as the data are not revolutionary, solutions to child poverty are not ground-breaking. Children are poor because their parents work in low-wage jobs. Jobs don't pay enough to cover household expenses of health insurance, child care, and housing. Income data from today's report show median household income declining. The working poor are falling further behind. Tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, can bolster the incomes of low-wage workers. Work supports, including child care assistance, nutrition assistance, and health insurance can help workers who struggle to meet basic needs. In fact, today's data confirm the critical role of government programs as evidenced by the success of public health insurance in covering children. Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) provide coverage for 45 percent of young children, resulting in many fewer uninsured children today. High-quality child care, comprehensive Head Start and Early Head Start services, and home visiting for vulnerable families can all improve the odds for poor children and ensure that they get off to a healthier start in life.

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