Urban Wire Child poverty rate rising in many states
Julia B. Isaacs
Display Date

On September 19, the Census Bureau released data from the 2011 American Community Survey, allowing a closer look at child poverty rates across the states. Child poverty increased in many states, with the result that 27 states now have child poverty rates of 20 percent or higher.  Before the recession began, only about half as many states–14 mostly southern and southwestern states–had these high rates.

As shown in the map below, states throughout the South, much of the West, and portions of the Northeast and Midwest have high child poverty rates. In these states, one in five children—or more—grows up in a family with very low income (roughly less than $18,000 for a family of three and $23,000 for a family of four).  Mississippi, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia top the list, with child poverty rates of more than 30 percent. Another 17 states have rates between 15 and 20 percent; only 7 states in the country have child poverty rates of less than 15 percent.

Averaged across all states, the national child poverty rate is 22.5 percent, according to these new ACS data, a substantial increase from the 21.6 percent rate in the 2010 ACS data. However, the more commonly cited national poverty statistics, released a week ago, indicate that child poverty rates calculated from Current Population Survey (CPS) data were essentially flat between 2010 and 2011, at roughly 22 percent. Note that the Census Bureau recommends using CPS data for national poverty rates and ACS data for state and more localized rates, even though these two surveys sometimes show slightly different trends.

What do we know about how children are faring in 2012? The indicators that help predict child poverty rates are mixed. On one hand, unemployment rates are declining slowly, which might portend a modest decline in child poverty. On the other hand, caseloads for food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are still slightly rising, suggesting that child poverty may also be rising. With mixed trends, I am not yet ready to predict child poverty rates for 2012, but will do so in early December, publishing my third annual prediction of state child poverty rates. My December 2011 prediction that state child poverty rates would continue to rise in 2011 has been largely borne out by today’s data, an outcome that speaks well to my model’s predictive abilities, but poorly about the state of our economy.  Too many millions of families with children are still struggling economically in the wake of the recession.

Research Areas Children and youth Child welfare
Tags Poverty Economic well-being Kids in context
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population