Child Poverty and
Safety Net Sustenance
Child poverty correlates with critical health measures: low birthweights. undernutrition, lower cognitive development and IQ. and low height for age. It also correlates with child neglect and delinquency incidence. Perhaps most profoundly, it has a close relationship to long-term educational achievement and economic opportunity.
As of January 2006, the federal poverty line for the benchmark family of three is an annual income of $16.090.1 The National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University estimates the number and rate of U.S. children living below the federal line at twelve million (4.2 million under the age of six). The number of impoverished children has increased by 1.6 million since 1979. Despite improvements since 1993, the child poverty rate as of 2006 is estimated at 18%, slightly above its 1979 level of 17%.
The child poverty rate is highest for African American (33 percent) and Latino (30 percent) children. By international standards, it is also high for white children at 9%. The young-child poverty rate follows a similar pattern: 37% for African American children under age six, 31% for Latino young children, and 10% for white young children.
Of greatest concern are the 7% of America's children who live in extreme poverty (8% of U.S. children under age six). Such extreme poverty is defined as families with incomes below 50% of the poverty line. Research indicates that extreme poverty during the first five years of life has especially deleterious effects on children's future life chances compared to less extreme poverty experienced later in childhood. Finally, 39% of American children live in or near poverty (41 percent of U.S. children under age six), in families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line.2
In February 2001, a Syracuse University study concluded that California and New York had the highest child poverty rates among the developed nations of the world. All of Europe, including Russia, achieved lower child poverty rates, e.g., Germany's rate is 8.7%, Sweden's is 2.5%.3
The brain is vulnerable to damage from undernutrition far short of gross physical symptoms, particularly for children under six years of age. Even where