New Census Data Shows Some Improvement for Kids

Poverty & Family Economics
Racial Equity
Tax Policy

Today the U.S. Census Bureau released the 2013 national poverty data, and it was encouraging – the child poverty rate dropped to 19.9 percent compared to 21.8 percent in 2012. This means 1.4 million fewer children lived in poverty in 2013, and this is the first decrease in the child poverty rate since 2000 (the poverty threshold for a family of four with two children is $23, 624)

Unfortunately, children are still the age group most likely to live in poverty, with a poverty rate significantly higher than the overall 14.5 percent rate. While children only represent 23.5 percent of the population, they make up 32.3 percent of people living in poverty.

Some other important numbers to know:

  • 5 million children in 2013 were living in deep poverty, meaning they lived in families with an income below one-half of the poverty threshold ($11, 812 for a family of four with two children).
  • Younger children are still more likely to be living in poverty than older children, with 22.2 percent of related children under 6 living in poverty, compared to 19.5 percent of related children under 18.
  • According to the Economic Policy Institute, 38.3 percent of African-American children and 30.4 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty in 2013. This means that African-American children and Hispanic children are 3-4 times more likely to live in poverty than white children.

While children continue to bear the brunt of the recession’s effects, we have to remember that the child poverty rate would be much higher if it was not for critical programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which lifted 1.67 million children out of poverty in 2012, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which lifted 2.9 million children out of poverty that same year.

Despite the high number of children still living in poverty, Congress is still proposing to cut funds for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Family (TANF) program.  The Continuing Resolution recently released by the House proposes to cut TANF by almost $30 million.  According to First Focus’s 2014 Children’s Budget book, 75 percent of TANF spending is allocated to children. Yet TANF funds have been stagnant for years, as it has not been adjusted for inflation since its inception in 1996 and the dissolution of the Supplemental Grants

We urge Members of Congress to take these cuts into consideration when voting on the Continuing Resolution.

Instead of cutting critical programs such as TANF, Congress should focus on what works to reduce child poverty. We can look to the United Kingdom, where in 1999 the government established a national target to reduce child poverty, which united the Tory and Labour parties behind a goal of halving child poverty in ten years. Through a mixture of investments for children, measures to make work pay, and efforts to increase financial support for families, the British government halved child poverty in 2009. While they have been struggling more recently to maintain this reduction in child poverty, there is much we can learn from the United Kingdom.

Democrats and Republicans should work together to establish a National Child Poverty Target to reduce child poverty in 10 years and eliminate it in 20 years. Similar to the effort made in the UK and building on what works here, we must invest directly in children, such as by ensuring that every child can access affordable high-quality prekindergarten, and also take measures to make work pay for parents to allow them to provide for their families.

The Census Bureau will be releasing more data in the coming days and months, including state-by-state data as well as the release of the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account other factors besides a family’s cash income, such as the effect of noncash benefits, work expenses, and cost-of-living adjustments.  Look for some additional information and analysis from First Focus on this data.