Nearly 2.5 million children across the United States, or one in thirty, experienced homelessness in 2013, up some 8 percent on a year-over-year basis and an historic high, a report from the National Center on Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research finds.
According to the report, America's Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness (130 pages, PDF), the number of children who were homeless in 2013 increased in thirty-one states and the District of Columbia, and was up at least 10 percent in thirteen of those states and the district. The report's state rankings (5 pages, PDF) — which are based on the percentage of children who are homeless; indicators of child well-being such as food security, health, and education; risk factors for child homelessness such as benefits, housing market factors, household structure, and extreme poverty; and state policy and planning related to health, income, housing, and efforts to end child and family homelessness — put Minnesota, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Iowa, and New Jersey at the top of the list, while Alabama, Mississippi, California, Arkansas, and New Mexico were ranked at the bottom.
The study points to a number of primary causes of child homelessness, including historically high poverty rates, lack of affordable housing, racial disparities, the challenges faced by single-parent households, the impact of traumatic experiences such as domestic violence, and the lingering effects of the Great Recession. Since the economic crisis, the number of children who experience homelessness has increased every year, from 1.2 million in 2007 to 1.6 million in 2010. According to the report, the impact of homelessness on young children may result in changes in brain architecture that can interfere with learning, emotional self-regulation, cognitive skills, and social relationships, while the unrelenting stress experienced by the parents of homeless children, most of whom are single mothers, may contribute to residential instability, unemployment, ineffective parenting, and poor health.
"Child homelessness has reached epidemic proportions in America," said Carmela DeCandia, director of the National Center on Family Homelessness. "Living in shelters, neighbors’ basements, cars, campgrounds, and worse — homeless children are the most invisible and neglected individuals in our society. Without decisive action now, the federal goal of ending child homelessness by 2020 will soon be out of reach."