60 Minutes Shines Light on Child Poverty

Last night, 60 Minutes reported on the sharp increase of children living in poverty with a story titled, “Homeless Children: The Hard Times Generation.” Census data showed that 47.8 million Americans–15.7% of the U.S. population–lived in poverty in 2009 [see our related post, “Revised Census Numbers Show More Americans Living in Poverty”].

We know that there is a widening income gap between high-income and middle-class families, and we also know that poverty can suppress a child’s potential to excel. As we have seen in our experiences, poverty creates stress for children and can impede their ability to thrive in school. As the children in story explain, it’s hard to study at home when the electricity has been turned off.

From the story:

The government considers a family of four to be impoverished if they take in less than $22,000 a year. Based on that standard, and government projections of unemployment, it is estimated the poverty rate for kids in this country will soon hit 25 percent. Those children would be the largest American generation to be raised in hard times since the Great Depression.

“Income Gap” Growing for Middle-class Families

A report from the Foundation for Child Development (FCD) offers an analysis of the relationship between family income and child health, education, and social outcomes. Declining Fortunes of Children in Middle-Class Families (pdf) found that even before the recent recession, middle class families saw a drop in family income of approximately $4,000, while privileged families only saw a decrease of $139. The “income gap” between middle class and high-income families has expanded over the past 20 years, from $60,000 in 1985 to $93,100 in 2008.

The  report found that for middle-class children, public education and health programs have helped to provide supports and services that their families cannot afford, like access to health insurance and pre-kindergarten education. The report’s authors caution that in the face of government budgetary shortfalls, eliminating these services would have a negative impact on the health and wellness of middle-class children.

“This study is a stark reminder that policies we set today have very wide and real ramifications in the lives of children – not only children from low-income families but children squarely in the middle class,” said Ruby Takanishi, President of FCD. “The budget decisions we make in the coming months will have consequences that could last a lifetime.”

The Recession’s Effect on Children

A new report published by the bipartisan advocacy organization First Focus illustrates how recessions affect child well-being and concludes that even temporary poverty has lifelong health implications for children. Conducted by researchers at PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the report, “The Effect of Recession on Child Well-Being,” says it takes years for families, especially low-income families, to bounce back to pre-recession income levels.

The study synthesized evidence in four areas–health, food security, housing stability, and child maltreatment–and reviewed the correlation of each to child well-being during recessions, past and present. The study found that as a result of increased poverty, approximately 43% of families with children report that they are struggling to afford stable housing. The study also found an increase in the number of “food insecure” households.

“While there has been much discussion about housing issues for families during this recession, I’m not sure many people know how profound the food insecurity issues have been, where as many as 74% of children in some of our communities are now relying on food stamps to put dinner on the table,” said David Rubin, MD, MSCE, director of PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The evidence is also strong that those families who entered the recession in poverty will take much longer to rebound, demonstrating that we have a long road ahead even as the economy improves.”

For more information: