Census Data Show Dramatic Rise in Poverty Among African-American Children in Nation’s Capital


New Census data released this month show a “breathtaking” rise in poverty among African-American children in the nation’s capital.  Three out of 10 children in the District of Columbia were living in poverty last year, according to the Washington Post.  The data show that poverty among black children is by far the worst, rising to 43 percent in the District last year.

Though likely much greater in magnitude than anyone might have expected, the rise in child poverty follows on the rise in poverty among women, and especially among female-headed households, on which we reported last week.

The new census data also show that women, increasingly, are the majority standing on the wrong side of the poverty line.According to analysis of the new Census data by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the poverty rate among women rose to 13.9 percent last year, the highest rate in 15 years.

The findings also show that the number of children of color living in poverty rose quickly in the suburbs of D.C., including throughout Montgomery County, Alexandria, Arlington County and the northern half of Fairfax County.  These counties are simultaneously home to a fast-rising number of poor children, and to some of the highest average incomes in the nation, underscoring a widening gap between rich and poor. Maryland, my current home state, has the nation’s highest median household income.  Yet the number of poor children in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties roughly doubled over two years.

Poverty rose much more slowly among Hispanic children than among black children.  The Post notes that:

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.

Poverty rates among white children rose by no more than a percentage point or two and remained in the single digits.

According to the Post, The poverty rates in the District, where use of food stamps went up by about a third in two years, exceeded every other jurisdiction and even surpassed the rate in Mississippi.

The recession obviously has led to a rise in poverty in many, and experts interviewed by the Post point to several exacerbating factors. 

“Child care is very expensive,” Jenny Reed, an analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which researches budget and tax issues in the District. “A lot of families in D.C. are in low-wage jobs, so even though they’re working, they’re not earning enough to live above poverty.”

The childhood poverty numbers stood in stark contrast to the city’s rising income level, which despite the recession grew steadily over four years, to more than $59,000 last year. But that growth has been uneven, too. Even as the poor and near-poor in the region were slipping to lower and lower rungs, many Washingtonians did not suffer during the downturn. The region’s median household of $85,000 – a third higher than the national median – dipped almost $700 in 2008, but regained $200 last year. In most area jurisdictions, the share of wealthier households remained stable or even increased.

Nationally, the median income of $50,221 was down about 4 percent last year from the start of the recession in December 2007. In 2007, the median household income was $52,384. Last year alone was responsible for about $1,500 of that loss.

The Post notes:

From 2008 to 2009, real median household income fell by 2.9 percent nationwide, decreasing in 34 states and increasing in one (North Dakota), the data showed.

Almost one in five households had an income of $100,000 or more last year, the census data showed. That was down almost a full percentage point from 2008. In contrast, almost one in four families earned less than $25,000, an increase of one percentage point.

The number and percentage of people in poverty rose in 31 states from 2008 to 2009, with no state showing a statistically significant decline.

One of the few bright spots nationally was the rising percentage of insured children, which increased from 90.3 percent in 2008 to 91 percent last year, when 1.1 million additional children were insured.

Over the same period, the uninsured rate for children increased in two states (Alaska and Minnesota) and was not statistically different in 32 states and Puerto Rico.

Those would be the states headed during the time period in question by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (Republican) and current Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, both of whom opposed health reform.

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