31 Million U.S. Kids Live in Poverty Today As Racial Inequality Deepens

More than one in three black kids--a full 36 percent of black youth--live in poverty, along with 31 percent of Latino children.

By Julianne Hing Aug 18, 2011

Today, one in five U.S. kids are living in poverty, says a new report on how kids are faring in the recession. Everything about the foreclosure crisis and recession and the attack on the public safety net that has made the last few years difficult for U.S. adults has also made things tough for U.S. children. But for kids of color, the numbers are much worse.

More than one in three black kids–a full 36 percent of black youth–live in poverty and 31 percent of Latino kids lives in poverty. And for many of the indicators of child welfare that the Annie E. Casey Foundation, whose 2011 Kids Count Data Book was released on Wednesday, tracks, like infant mortality rates and school achievement, black and Latino kids fare far worse than their white counterparts.

For example, in 2009, a full 16 states reported poverty rates for black children that were upwards of 40 percent. And in five states, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama, more than 40 percent of Latino kids there lived in poverty. However, no state has a white children’s poverty rate that’s over 23 percent.

While the disparities are nothing new, there are several key explanations for the deepening inequality, said Jann Jackson, a senior fellow with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The foreclosure crisis, which had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, stole much of whatever wealth black and Latino families had been able to accumulate throughout the 1990s. And while everyone’s been hurt by the ongoing economic recession, white folks who have more access to the markets, have been able to regain some of their footing as the stock market has recovered somewhat, Jackson said. Whatever recovery has happened has bypassed communities of color, though, just as public support systems like unemployment insurance, food stamps and health insurance are being eroded.

"I call it the perfect storm," Jackson said. "Just at a time when the private markets are not working for families of color and you have high unemployment which also disproportionately affects families of color … suddenly our country has an eruption of anti-government rhetoric."

"Families are losing the government support that is supposed to tie you over till you can get back on your feet."

The hardship that poor kids face affects their futures, as well. Kids who grow up in poverty are more likely to live in poverty as adults. They will grow up with less access to social and educational resources and have less earning potential than their peers, the report says.

What’s more, researchers are beginning to track the links between poverty and kids’ psychological and educational development. Researchers at Cornell University have found that kids who grow up in poverty are deeply affected by the instability of their home lives, and those environmental stressors hamper their ability to excel in school. It seems intuitive, but there’s growing evidence that there’s, in fact, a causal relationship between family income and kids’ academic success.

That’s why, Jackson says, the deepening racial inequality facing the country matters to everyone.

"This has huge implications for whether or not the next generation is going to be economically secure, educated and prepared to be productive in the workforce," she said. "This is about where our country will be 20 years from now."