A Devastating Kids CountThe Nation
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count reports that nearly 8 million children in the United States live in areas of “concentrated poverty,” defined as at least 30 percent of residents living below the federal poverty level—about $22,000 for a family of four.
That’s 11 percent of children in the country, and it’s 25 percent more than lived in concentrated poverty in 2000. What makes this even more alarming and is perhaps a testament to the proliferation of low-wage work and concentration of wealth—75 percent of these kids have at least one parent working in the labor force.
Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the foundation, said she finds the new data “particularly disturbing” because the long-term trends have taken such a turn for the worse. Between 1990 and 2000, concentrated poverty was reduced and things were moving in the right direction. But the decade between 2000 and 2010 tells a different story.
“Poverty is re-concentrating,” she told me. “There’s more segregation in terms of income in the US and this can have really bad impacts for kids.”
As the report notes, families living in areas of concentrated poverty are more likely to face food hardship, have trouble paying their housing costs and lack health insurance than those living in more affluent areas. Children are “more likely to experience harmful levels of stress and severe behavioral and emotional problems than children overall.” Even children in middle- and upper-income families living in areas of concentrated poverty are 52 percent more likely to fall down the economic ladder as an adult.
“Part of what we want to reinforce is the concept that children don’t grow up in isolation,” said Speer. “They are affected by both their family’s resources and also very much impacted by the community in which they live. The community is critically important because it really does for many kids equate to the opportunities that they have access to.”
The states with the highest rates of children living in concentrated poverty are in the south and southwest, while Detroit (67 percent), Cleveland (57 percent) and Miami (49 percent) have the highest levels among the nation’s fifty largest cities.