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Contact: Ed Walz
Phone: (202) 657-0685

Child Poverty Will Remain High, Analysis Predicts

Poverty & Family Economics

Ed Walz
(202) 657-0685 (office)

Washington — A new report released today predicts 2012 national and state child poverty rates 10 months before the U.S. Census Bureau’s official measure, expected in September 2013. The new First Focus analysis, written by Urban Institute researchers Julia Isaacs and Olivia Healy, finds early signs of improvement, though the nation’s child poverty rate will remain high — with nearly one-fourth of all children living in poverty — as the recession continues to take a heavy toll on children and their families.

In The Recession’s Ongoing Impact on Children, 2012: Indicators of Children’s Economic Well-Being, Isaacs and Healy assess three key economic indicators of children’s well-being — the number of children living with an unemployed parent, the number who rely upon the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) for food, and the number who live in poverty — and finds that:

  • 2.7 million more children lived with an unemployed parent during a typical month in 2012, compared to 2007 (an increase of 71%), bringing the 2012 total to 6.3 million children;
  • 2.8 million (44% of those living with an unemployed parent) lived, during a typical 2012 month, with a parent unemployed six months or longer;
  • 8.8 million more additional children relied upon SNAP for food in 2012, compared to 2007, bringing the total number of children receiving SNAP to 21.6 million (one in four) nationwide;
  • 16 million children (more than one in five) currently live in poverty; and
  • The number of states that are high child poverty states (where more than one-in-five children live in poverty) has nearly doubled during the recession, from 14 in 2007 to 27 in 2011

“The numbers tell us two critical things: first, the recession continues to hit America’s children hard; and second, smart investments in children’s health and well-being can mitigate the harm. Federal resources like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, CHIP and Medicaid, and even child support enforcement funding, can keep families afloat and protect America’s children,” said First Focus President Bruce Lesley.

The report observes that a parent’s unemployment and poverty have both immediate and long-lasting effects on a child’s development. Near-term effects include psychological stress and academic performance, and even increased incidences of abuse and neglect. Lasting consequences include diminished career aspirations and earnings as an adult.

When children’s advocates asked both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, this year, to share specific ideas on reducing child poverty, President Obama was the only presidential candidate to respond in writing. The president has also delivered federal budget proposals that enhance investments in children’s initiatives, even while cutting discretionary spending overall. Advocates urged him to continue playing that leadership role as the new Congress begins.

“In word and deed, President Obama’s been a leader in the fight to protect kids from poverty’s harms,” said Lesley. “His upcoming State of the Union Address would be an ideal forum to commit the Congress and the nation to a shared mission: to cut child poverty in half within ten years.”

The paper provides state-by-state breakdowns of the three key economic indicators of child well-being. The number of children living with an unemployed parent more than doubled since the recession in twelve states: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Utah. The number of residents who rely on SNAP for food doubled in Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. The share of children living in poverty has reached 25 percent or greater in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

The report also notes that conventional economic metrics do not take into account the impact of changes in the economy on children. For example, it notes that unemployment measures count only unemployed workers, excluding children from the calculus of economic consequences.

The report also notes that while the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs have protected America’s seniors from poverty increases during economic downturns, there is an absence of similar protections for children who also suffer when the economy takes a turn for the worse.

First Focus has encouraged federal policymakers to adopt an approach modeled on the poverty targets established by the national government of the United Kingdom. The UK first set “poverty targets” — benchmarks for reducing child poverty over time, eventually to eradicate it within a generation. Then, Parliament established a Child Poverty Commission to monitor and report publicly on progress toward the child poverty targets. Subsequently, the UK adopted budgets early in the recession that cut overall spending, while maintaining a focus on support for families living in poverty now and investing in early childhood and primary/secondary education, to reduce the incidence of poverty in the future.

“America’s succeeded in protecting seniors from poverty, because we decided that was important. Great Britain has shown us it is possible to protect children, too. Now, kids need Congress to decide that protecting them is important,” said Lesley.

First Focus has developed and commissioned a series of reports, policy analyses and other materials examining the recession’s consequences for America’s children. Those resources, including an analysis of the UK’s child poverty targets, are available at