Childhood Poverty Has Troubling, Long-Term Consequences
A new Urban Institute brief, Childhood Poverty Persistence: Facts and Consequences, explores the long-term effects of childhood poverty and provides further evidence that the nation needs sound policy solutions to ensure more children have the resources and supports necessary to become productive adults.
The brief examines the links between poverty status at birth, persistent childhood poverty, and adult outcomes.
The study used Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) data from 1968 through 2005 to examine the occurrence and duration of poverty among all children and by race, from birth through age 17. The study's authors analyzed key child poverty data, including the number of years and proportion of children who lived in persistent poverty (defined as living at least half of their childhood in poverty), the frequency in which children cycled in and out of poverty, and the relationship between poverty status at birth and adult outcomes. Researchers tracked the progress of these children at ages 25 to 30, examining adult outcomes such as poverty status, educational attainment, and employment. The study's results provide a stark picture of the long-term consequences of and racial disparities in childhood poverty. Among the study's findings:
- Poverty status at birth: Children born in poor families are significantly more likely to live in persistent poverty than children born in higher income families. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of children in the former group go on to live in poverty throughout their childhoods compared to 5 to 9 percent of children in the latter group. By race, about 30 percent of white children and nearly 70 percent of black children born in poor households continue to live in poverty for at least half of their childhood.
- Persistent childhood poverty: The longer a child lives in poverty, the worse their adult outcomes. For example, more than 30 percent of persistently poor children continue to be persistently poor in early adulthood compared to only 1 percent of non-poor children.
- Adult outcomes: Among white men not born in poverty, 73 percent are consistently employed between ages 25-30. White men born in poverty are somewhat more likely to be consistently employed as young adults - 88 percent. But for black men, 69 percent for those not born in poverty are consistently employed and only 36 percent for those born in poverty.
According to the latest Census numbers, 21.3 percent of children are poor. This new Urban Institute brief as well as prior research clearly shows that the long-term consequences of poverty are severe.
"We strongly support policy solutions to address childhood poverty, but also believe it should be part of a comprehensive policy strategy to generally address poverty," said Alan W. Houseman, executive director of CLASP. "In a nation as advanced and developed as this one, we ought to be able to address poverty and improve long-term outcomes for people who grow up poor."
As part of its mission to improve the lives of low-income people, CLASP advocates for policy strategies to fight poverty across age ranges and population groups. Low-income families need access to programs that assist both children and adults, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and child care subsidies. Young children who are low-income need high-quality child care and early education programs such as federal Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which promote their development and link their families to needed comprehensive services. Low-income youth, especially those in high-poverty communities, need supports to stay in school or pathways to reconnect with education systems and the labor market. Adults who are low-income need basic skills, workforce training, and access to postsecondary education, not only to attain and maintain employment, but to move along career pathways to good jobs that will move them out of poverty.
Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, an initiative of CLASP and several other organizations, has online resources available, including data and research links on poverty issues. To learn more about key policies, read CLASP's Federal Policy Recommendations for 2010 for specific policy ideas for achieving healthy and thriving families and improving the nation's prosperity.