Children under 18 continue to have a higher poverty rate than older people, but the number of poor youth is not growing as fast as other poor populations, according to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The bureau says 11.7 million youth – or 16.3 percent of those under age 18 – lived below the poverty level in 2001, an increase from the 2000 levels of 11.6 million and 16.2 percent.
The bureau’s “average poverty threshold” for a family of four last year was $18,104.
The increase in the number of children below the poverty level is the first in eight years, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. “While the increase is slight … the total numbers are still huge,” the CDF said when the numbers were released.
Overall, the nation’s poverty rate rose from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 11.7 percent in 2001, the bureau reported in “Poverty in the United States: 2001.” About 32.9 million people were considered poor in 2001, an increase of about 1.3 million.
“These changes coincided with a recession,” Daniel Weinberg, chief of the Census Bureau’s Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, said when the figures were released. The bureau also cited the recession for a decline in real median household income.
The CDF blamed the increase in child poverty rates on tax cuts Congress enacted last year, as well as its failure to reauthorize and change the nation’s welfare laws.
“There is plenty of money to help poor children and families weather the economy. It’s just all going to the wrong place,” CDF President Marian Wright Edelman said in a prepared statement.
The increase in child poverty rates did not surprise analysts at the D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. More people out of work generally means more people in poverty.
What did surprise them was the different effect the recession had on children in different racial groups.
“I would never have expected white, non-Hispanic child poverty rates to increase, and black and Hispanic child poverty rates to decrease,” said Wendell Primus, director of income and security at the Washington-based center. “Whatever drove white poverty up didn’t drive black and Hispanic child poverty up? You would have thought the recession would have had the same impact on all poverty rates.”
The poverty rate for white children increased from 8.5 percent to 8.9 percent. The rate among black children decreased from 30.9 percent to 30 percent, and among Hispanics from 27.6 percent to 27.4 percent.
The census numbers indicate that Congress should extend unemployment benefits to help families in which adults are unemployed and no longer receiving aid, Primus said.
Both the CDF and the budget center expect child poverty rates among all races to increase next year. They attributed their gloomy forecast to a reduction in state spending for child care and other social services, the expiration of unemployment benefits that were extended because of the Sept. 11 attacks, and the reduction in federal cash benefits to welfare families.
“We’re diverting too many families off the welfare rolls,” Primus said. “It’s not a good sign when caseloads don’t increase” during a recession.
Poverty among people age 18 to 64 increased from 16.7 million to 17.8 million. About 3.3 million people over 65 were considered poor, an increase of 91,000.
Contact: Census Bureau, www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty01.html; Children’s Defense Fund, (202) 627-8787, http://www.childrensdefense.org/release020924.php; Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, (202) 408-1080, www.cbpp.org/9-24-02pov.htm.