The economy continues to lumber back to life, with unemployment down and the labor force growing in the years since the Great Recession, but worrisome realities remain for some parts of the population.
Case in point: The staggering number of black children living in poverty, and the perpetual existence of so many children in the United States with access to so little.
The poverty rate fell among Hispanic, white and Asian children in 2013, yet even as this rate declined for them, it remained the same for black children. About four in 10 black children were living in poverty in 2013, compared to about three in 10 Hispanic children and one in 10 white or Asian children.
Black and Hispanic children are acutely over-represented in terms of child poverty. There are actually more Hispanic children living in poverty than there are black, white or Asian children, but that larger overall number stems from Hispanics being a larger and younger population than any other non-white group, Pew says.
Children make up a disproportionate share of the impoverished population. Nearly a quarter of people in the United States are younger than 18, but such people account for nearly a third of those in poverty.
In 2013, the country’s official poverty rate was 14.5 percent, down from 15 percent the year before, making it the first time the poverty rate fell since 2006, according to the Census Bureau. Among children, the poverty rate declined to 19.9 percent that year from 21.8 percent. The number of children living in poverty also fell to 14.7 million from 16.1 million.
(The poverty threshold is based on various factors like the number of people living in a home, but for the purposes of the Pew report and this post, the Census Bureau defined poverty in 2013 as two related children living in a four-person household with an income of no more than $23,624. You can read more about how the Census Bureau defines this poverty threshold here.)
In 2013, for the first time since the Census began collecting this data in 1974, the number of black children in poverty (4.2 million) actually edged out the number of white children in poverty (4.1 million), Pew reports. While Pew noted that the difference was not statistically significant, it stands out because there are far more white children than black in the country.
The child poverty rate is a constant, unending pit of sorrow. One in five children in the United States lives in poverty. It has been more than four decades since the poverty rate for children was below 15 percent.
As noted above, children represented 23.5 percent of the total population in 2013, but they made up 32.3 percent of all people in poverty that year. Earlier this year, the Southern Education Foundation reported that more than half of public school students during the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for free and reduced lunches, an indicator of how many come from low-income families.
The United States also does not compare too favorably to other wealthy countries in the world. A report from UNICEF last year studied 41 affluent countries to see how child poverty changed between 2008 and 2012. Based on the child poverty rates in 2012, the United States came in at No. 36.
UNICEF used a different measurement for poverty, determining it based on 60 percent of median income. According to that report, the United States had a child poverty rate of 32.2 percent in 2012, with nearly one in three children deemed impoverished. But this problem is a global one: In more than half the countries studied by UNICEF, at least one in five children lives in poverty. And in 23 of the 41 countries studied — the United States included — the child poverty rate increased between 2008 and 2012.
In addition to measuring different countries, UNICEF also looked at the numbers for each state here. Between 2006 and 2011, otherwise known as a period when a recession chewed through wide swaths of our economy, child poverty increased in more than two-thirds of the states. Some states saw large increases, like New Mexico (rising to a 41.9 percent child poverty rate from 32.8). Others, like Oklahoma, maintained a woeful status quo (with its 36 percent rate barely budging).
This is also a big problem for the youngest age group, those younger than 6. The National Center for Children in Poverty says that half of children in this age range live in low-income or abjectly poor families. About 70 percent of black children younger than 6 live in low-income families, as do about 66 percent of Hispanic children in that age range. And the number of particularly young children living in poverty has increased since 2007, the year the Great Recession began.
This latest report from Pew does not offer explanations for the racial gap. However, in the years since the recession began, there have been numerous indications of how much worse the economic implosion and the ensuing recovery has been for black people and other minorities. Black people disproportionately held subprime mortgages, so they were more likely to face foreclosures when the market collapsed. Black women said they were experiencing greater difficulties paying bills or getting loans. Black families who spent decades climbing into the middle class saw their financial foundations torn apart.
And even as the recovery has picked up, some Americans benefited more than others. Black and Hispanic working families are now twice as likely as white or Asian ones to be poor or low-income, according to one report, a gulf that grew since the recession. The racial wealth gap only grew since the recession, too: While the wealth of white people leveled off during the recovery, it continued to fall for black and Hispanic people.
To put it another way: White households essentially had 13 times the median wealth of black households, and 10 times the wealth of Hispanic households, as Pew researchers put it last December. This is the largest gap between black and white people since 1989.
As the National Center for Children in Poverty explains, most of the children living in poverty have parents who do work, but a combination of low wages and unsteady job employment lead to financial instability. A report earlier this year from the NAACP found that black and Latino workers are more likely to work in retail, which comes with stagnant or low pay, part-time schedules and unsteady schedules.
Meanwhile, nationwide, between 2012 and 2013, the poverty rate fell for men, women, Hispanics, children, people born outside the United States and families, according to the Census Bureau. It remained steady for black people.