Outlook for Children Living in Poverty Improved in 2011, Report Finds

Outlook for Children Living in Poverty Improved in 2011, Report Finds

While the national child poverty rate increased between 2005 and 2011, American children benefited toward the end of that period from an improved outlook in the areas of education and health, a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.

According to the foundation's annual KIDS COUNT Data Book (56 pages, PDF), the teen birth rate fell 15 percent, to an historic low, between 2005 and 2011; the rate of high school students not graduating in four years dropped almost 20 percent, as did the teen death rate; and the rate of children without health insurance fell some 30 percent.

In contrast, the child poverty rate in 2011 was 23 percent, which translates into some 16.4 million children living in poverty — an increase of 3 million compared to 2005 — while the number of children living in households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, more than 29 million, saw minor improvement from 2010 but was still about 2 million more than in 2005. Similarly, the number of children whose parents lacked full-time, year-round employment in 2011 was nearly 20 percent higher than in 2008.

For the first time in its 24-year history, the Data Book looked at how multiracial children were faring and found that while deep disparities persisted for African-American, Latino, and American-Indian children relative to their white and Asian and Pacific Islander counterparts, multiracial kids were generally better off than or faring as well as children in the overall population, with a few exceptions. For example, more multiracial children (42 percent) found themselves in single-parent families compared to the general population (35 percent), while 37 percent of multiracial kids had parents without full-time, year-round employment, compared to 32 percent of kids in the general population.

At the state level, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts ranked highest for overall child well-being, while Nevada, Mississippi, and New Mexico ranked lowest; it is the first time since the Data Book was launched that Mississippi has not been at the bottom of the rankings. The report also found improvements in math proficiency in forty-six states and the District of Columbia, although a considerable gap persisted between Massachusetts, with 49 percent of its eighth-graders not proficient in the subject, and Mississippi, where 81 percent of eighth-graders are not proficient.

"The progress we're seeing in child health and education is encouraging, but the economic data clearly speak to the considerable challenges we still face," said Laura Speer, the foundation's associate director for policy reform and data. "We need to do better and be smarter about investing in effective programs and services to help ensure all kids get the best possible start in life."