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D.C., region show disturbing rises in childhood poverty

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By Carol Morello and Dan Keating
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Three out of 10 children in the nation's capital were living in poverty last year, with the number of poor African American children rising at a breathtaking rate, according to census statistics released Tuesday.

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Among black children in the city, childhood poverty shot up to 43 percent, from 36 percent in 2008 and 31 percent in 2007. That was a much sharper increase than the two percentage-point jump, to 36 percent, among poor black children nationwide last year.

The number of poor minority children also rose in many parts of the Washington suburbs, including Montgomery County, Alexandria, Arlington County and the northern half of Fairfax County.

But the District, where unemployment has risen to nearly 30 percent in Ward 8, had the most sobering rise. Last year, there were more than 30,000 black children living in poverty in the city, almost 7,000 more than two years before, according to Census Bureau data.

In contrast, the poverty rate for Hispanic children increased only two percentage points in the same period, to 13 percent, and the rate for white children increased one percentage point, to 3 percent.

"These numbers don't surprise us," said Lindsey Buss, president of Martha's Table, a nonprofit group that feeds and clothes poor families in the District. "We saw the faces behind the numbers all through 2009," when the number of people seeking bags of groceries tripled.

The grim childhood poverty numbers released Tuesday were among an array of census statistics for 2009 that reflected a second year of national recession.

Nationwide, incomes went down for the second year in a row, as did the proportion of households earning more than $100,000. The ranks of people living in poverty and near-poverty grew, and more people went without health insurance.

The census data indicate that the recession took an uneven toll in the Washington region, inflicting particular pain on minority children in suburbs where poverty once was unusual. But poverty rates among white children rose by no more than a percentage point or two and remained in the single digits.

In Maryland, which has the nation's highest median household income, the number of poor children in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties roughly doubled over two years.

One in three African American children in Anne Arundel was poor last year and almost one in four was in Frederick County, reflecting major increases over two years. But Prince George's County had about 4,500 fewer black children in poverty, a decline of about a quarter.

"People say Maryland is immune, but this shows you it isn't," said Matthew Joseph, executive director for Advocates for Children and Youth in Baltimore.

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