Although all racial-ethnic groups saw declining rates of child poverty, race-based gaps persist in child poverty rates. Across the nation, in every place type, region, and age group, black children generally have the highest poverty rate. Though the national child poverty rate for black children, 38.4 percent, is very high, in pockets of the country, black child poverty exceeds 50 percent (Table 1). Specifically, more than half of rural black children are poor, driven largely by the very high rate in the rural South (52.1 percent). Additionally, in rural places, more than half of all black children under age 12 are poor, and the rate is highest for the youngest children at 56.5 percent (Table 2).
|To view Table 1 and 2 please download the PDF.|
Black children are not the only minority children confronting systemic disadvantage. As a group, Hispanic children also fare particularly poorly. Their poverty rate is typically significantly lower than that of black children but they nonetheless have much higher rates than non-Hispanic whites and Asians. Among Hispanic children, poverty rates are highest in the Northeast and South (34.0 percent and 33.3 percent, respectively), particularly in the Northeastern cities where more than four in ten Hispanic children are poor. This is particularly notable because the Northeast has the lowest rate of child poverty in the nation.
In comparison, the poverty rates of non-Hispanic white and Asian children are dramatically lower than among other racial-ethnic groups, a pattern that persists across region, age, and place type. Though there is dramatic variation within the Asian child population, as a group, Asian children are generally economically better off than other racial-ethnic minorities. The highest child poverty rates for non-Hispanic whites are observed in rural America (19.5 percent) and in the South (14.1 percent). As with other racial-ethnic groups, non-Hispanic white and Asian child poverty tends to be highest among the youngest children and lowest in the suburbs.
Racial-Ethnic Composition of Nonpoor and Poor Children
The rates and trends in child poverty presented above tell an important story about how child poverty is distributed across the United States. However, they do not reveal which racial-ethnic groups of children are most concentrated among the poor. If every racial-ethnic group experienced child poverty at the same rate, child poverty would be evenly distributed (albeit still problematic in its prevalence). However, even when certain groups have high poverty rates, given the racial-ethnic composition of the child population in America, they may comprise a relatively smaller share of the poor child population. Given the disproportionate poverty rates by group, it is worthwhile to understand the composition of the population of poor children by race-ethnicity. The data released on September 17, 2015, do not permit such analyses (refer to Data section), so we rely on microdata from 2013 to better understand the racial-ethnic breakdown of the poor and nonpoor child populations, as shown in Figure 1. While non-Hispanic white children make up the largest share of the nonpoor population, Hispanic children comprise the largest share of the poor child population. Black children account for a disproportionate share of poor children at 24.0 percent compared to 10.6 percent of the nonpoor population.
How Far Below Poverty Do Children Live?
Beyond the simple designation of poor or not poor, it is also useful to explore the depth of child poverty, or how far below the poverty line children live. To do this, we again use the 2013 ACS microdata, released last year (see Figure 2). Our analyses reveal that the median income in poor black children’s families is only 47 percent of the poverty threshold. This means that for more than half of poor black children, doubling their families’ incomes would not raise them above the poverty threshold. In all place types and age categories, the incomes in poor black children’s families fall further below the poverty line than any other racial groups’. However, the racial-ethnic disparity is not as great as one might expect. Across the nation, non-Hispanic white children in poor families have median family incomes that are only 55 percent of the poverty threshold. And poor Asian children, the racial-ethnic group that is least often poor, have median family incomes at 60 percent of the poverty threshold in 2013. Thus, for all race-ethnicities, the family income of poor children is dramatically below the poverty threshold.
It is encouraging to see declines in child poverty continue for a second year in a row. However, it is troubling that five years into economic recovery, child poverty remained 1.7 percentage points higher than in 2009, at the end of the Recession, and more than one in five children still lived below the poverty line in 2014. It is imperative to keep state and federal policies that ameliorate child poverty on the radar, as extensive research documents the long-term negative consequences of growing up poor.3
In addition to documenting persistent racial-ethnic disparities in child poverty, whereby blacks are most often economically disadvantaged, we show that these children are also living further below the poverty threshold than are other poor children. This suggests that relatively large-scale poverty alleviation efforts will be necessary to reduce the sharp racial-ethnic disparities evident in the data. As the nation struggles with issues of racism and racial equity, getting to the early roots of disparity is particularly important.
This research also highlights the continued importance of place. Child poverty differs regionally and across cities, rural places, and suburbs. Policies addressing poverty should consider nuanced ways place shapes the rate of poverty and its persistence, as well as the experience of poverty and the impact of poverty alleviation efforts.
Finally, our work shows that, in general, the youngest children tend to be the most disadvantaged. This highlights a critical need for early education programs and suggests that dual-generation approaches to poverty reduction—those that work with both poor parents and their children—may be particularly fruitful.