Report Shows Sharp Increase in Number of Children Living in High-Poverty Neighborhoods

February 27, 2012
by Michael Karpman

A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation highlights a steep rise in the number of children living in concentrated poverty in the nation's cities and towns over the last decade.

According to the foundation's KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot released last week, nearly 8 million children are growing up in neighborhoods where at least 30 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level - a 25 percent increase since 2000, when 6.3 million children lived in high-poverty communities. The share of the nation's children living in concentrated poverty increased from 9 percent to 11 percent during this time period.

The Data Snapshot emphasizes the detrimental impact that a high-poverty environment can have on child well-being. Children in disadvantaged communities are disproportionately more likely to drop out of school and have low test scores, suffer from food hardship and poor health and experience behavioral problems, compared with children with the same family income who live in more affluent neighborhoods.

Children who grow up in high-poverty areas not only tend to lack access to quality schools and medical care, but may also live far away from a range of important resources, such as grocery stores and safe places to go after school. The increased number of children living in concentrated poverty has grave implications for their future academic and career success, as well as the economic vitality and quality of life of the cities in which they live.

In addition to highlighting national and state-level data, the KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot also contains data on the number and percentage of children in high-poverty areas in the 50 largest U.S. cities. The South and Southwest regions of the country had the largest proportion of children living in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and African-American, American Indian and Latino children are much more likely to live in high-poverty communities than white children.

Despite the severe pressures on municipal finances in the wake of the recession, cities are continuing to lead the way in efforts to reduce concentrated poverty and help families become economically self-sufficient.

For instance, a number of cities are central players in local, neighborhood-based initiatives that seek to replicate the innovative poverty reduction strategy developed by the Harlem Children's Zone, even when they have not received funding through the federal Promise Neighborhoods program.

Other cities have taken comprehensive approaches to financially empowering local families by connecting them to key tax credits and work supports, mainstream banking services, savings and asset-building programs, alternatives to high-interest payday loans and financial education.

NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families offers a wide array of tools and resources that can help municipal officials learn to implement these strategies in their communities.

"Transforming disadvantaged communities into better places to raise children is vital to ensuring the next generation and their families realize their potential," said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the Casey Foundation.

Details: To read the Data Snapshot, visit www.aecf.org or go to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT Data Center, a source for the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being, at http://datacenter.kidscount.org.  To find resources or request assistance on poverty reduction strategies, visit www.nlc.org/iyef or contact Laura Fischer at (202) 626-3056 or fischer@nlc.org.