New Census data: Children remain America’s poorest citizens

September 17, 2013
census

Here’s the most important point of data in the entire debate over school reform: 21.8 percent of American children under the age of 18 lived in poverty in 2012, according to new Census Bureau statistics released on Tuesday.

That percentage, the same as in 2011, means that children continue to be America’s poorest people — and the younger they are, the worse off they are.The percentage of children under the age of 5 living in poverty is 25.1 — and almost 1 in 10, or 9.7 percent, live in extreme poverty.

The new data also show that 13.7 percent of Americans who live in poverty are from 18 to 64 years old, and 9.1 percent are those aged 65 and older.

Those hardest hit are children of color: 37.9 percent of black children lived in poverty in 2012, and 33.8 percent of Hispanics did as well. Compare that to 12.3 percent for white, non-Hispanic children.

What does living in poverty mean? The federal government defines poverty this way: For a family of four, an annual income below $23,492, which is $64 a day. Extreme poverty is defined as that family of four having an annual income less than half of the poverty level, which is $11,746 a year, or $32 a day for the average family of four.

But things are really worse than that. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, a family of four needs an income of about twice the poverty threshold to cover basic expenses. More than 42 percent of American children live in families that don’t meet this mark.

What effect does this have on student achievement?. According to this report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development about the 2009 international PISA tests:

Socio-economic disadvantage has many facets and cannot be ameliorated by education policy alone, much less in the short term. the educational attainment of parents can only gradually improve, and average family wealth depends on the long-term economic development of a country and on a culture that promotes individual savings. However, even if socio-economic background itself is hard to change, PISA shows that some countries succeed in reducing its impact on learning outcomes.

 

The countries that manage to reduce the impact of poverty on learning outcomes have adequate school funding systems unlike those found in the United States, in which schools serving poorer schools have fewer resources for children than schools serving kids from wealthier families.

Poverty is not the only reason many children do poorly in school. The adults in some school building shouldn’t be there, the actual facilities in some schools are crumbling, etc., etc. But ignoring the condition in which many children arrive at school (hungry, sick, exhausted, starved for early childhood education, etc.) dooms any important school reform.

Here, from the American Psychological Association, are some of the effects that living in poverty have on children:

Poverty and academic achievement

 

Poverty has a particularly adverse effect on the academic outcomes of children, especially during early childhood.

 

Chronic stress associated with living in poverty has been shown to adversely affect children’s concentration and memory which may impact their ability to learn.

 

School dropout rates are significantly higher for teens residing in poorer communities. In 2007, the dropout rate of students living in low-income families was about 10 times greater than the rate of their peers from high-income families (8.8% vs. 0.9%).

 

The academic achievement gap for poorer youth is particularly pronounced for low-income African American and Hispanic children compared with their more affluent White peers.

 

Underresourced schools in poorer communities struggle to meet the learning needs of their students and aid them in fulfilling their potential.

 

Inadequate education contributes to the cycle of poverty by making it more difficult for low-income children to lift themselves and future generations out of poverty.

 

Poverty and psychosocial outcomes

Children living in poverty are at greater risk of behavioral and emotional problems.

 

Some behavioral problems may include impulsiveness, difficulty getting along with peers, aggression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder.

 

Some emotional problems may include feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

 

Poverty and economic hardship is particularly difficult for parents who may experience chronic stress, depression, marital distress and exhibit harsher parenting behaviors. These are all linked to poor social and emotional outcomes for children.

 

Unsafe neighborhoods may expose low-income children to violence which can cause a number of psychosocial difficulties. Violence exposure can also predict future violent behavior in youth which places them at greater risk of injury and mortality and entry into the juvenile justice system.

 

Poverty and physical health

Children and teens living in poorer communities are at increased risk for a wide range of physical health problems:

 

Low birth weight

 

Poor nutrition which is manifested in the following ways:

–Inadequate food which can lead to food insecurity/hunger

–Lack of access to healthy foods and areas for play or sports which can lead to childhood overweight or obesity

 

Chronic conditions such as asthma, anemia, and pneumonia

 

Risky behaviors such as smoking or engaging in early sexual activity

 

Exposure to environmental contaminants, e.g., lead paint and toxic waste dumps

 

Exposure to violence in their communities which can lead to trauma, injury, disability, and mortality

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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