Technically, the recession is over. So it may come as a surprise to learn that more U.S. children are living in poverty right now than during the Great Recession. To be more specific: About 1.7 million more children live in low-income working families than just a few years ago.
The new and troubling numbers come from the 2015 Kids Count Data Book, which was released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation earlier this week. The book measures four domains of child well-being in the post-recession years: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. It also ranks states by overall child well-being. This time, Minnesota took the top spot, followed by New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa and Vermont, while Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi ranked lowest.
When it comes to childhood poverty, the report found that since 2008, the number of children living in poverty has risen by almost 3 million, which means more than 16 million kids in the U.S. live in poverty. Millions more children are living in areas of concentrated poverty as well. In fact, the number of children living in neighborhoods with poverty rates of more than 30 percent is the highest it’s been since 1990. Still, not all children face the same risk of poverty or barriers to well-being. For example, according to the data book, black children are twice as likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, while American Indian children are twice as likely to lack health insurance.
“While we’ve seen an increase in employment in recent years, many of these jobs are low-wage and cannot support even basic family expenses,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation, in a news release. “Far too many families are still struggling to provide for the day-to-day needs of their children, notably the 16 million kids who are living in poverty. We can and must do better: we can make policy choices to lift more families into economic stability.”
But the news isn’t all bad. Below are some other findings — both positive and negative — from the data book:
- The percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment got worse, from 27 percent in 2008 to 31 percent in 2013.
- The percentage of children living in households with burdensome housing costs got better, from 39 percent in 2008 to 36 percent in 2013.
- The percentage of children not attending preschool got worse, from 53 percent in 2007-2009 to 54 percent in 2011-2013.
- The percentage of high schoolers not graduating on time got better, from 25 percent in 2007-2008 to 19 percent in 2011-2012.
- The percentage of children without health insurance improved, from 10 percent in 2008 to 7 percent in 2013.
- The percentage of babies born with a low birth weight also improved, from 8.2 percent in 2008 to 8 percent in 2013.
- The percentage of children living in single-parent households went up, from 32 percent in 2008 to 35 percent in 2013. (This is an important indicator of child well-being, as children in such families typically have access to fewer economic and emotional resources.)
- And the teen birth rate has hit historic lows, though the U.S. is still home to the highest teen birth rate among high-income nations.
So, why are these indicators so important not only for today’s children and families, but for our collective future? Because over and over again, scientists find that the early childhood period is a pivotal time for putting kids on a healthy and successful lifelong trajectory. The report put it best:
Research also indicates that boosting low family income, especially early in a child’s life, can have lasting positive effects on cognitive development, health, academic achievement and even adult work hours and earnings. Neuroscience provides evidence of why the earliest years are so critical: Early brain development plays a key role in establishing the neural functions and structures that shape future cognitive, social, emotional and health outcomes. One study found that for families with annual incomes below $25,000, providing them with an additional $3,000 during a child’s preschool years was associated with a 17 percent increase in their earnings as adults.
To download a copy of the full report and see how your state ranked in child well-being, visit the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.