The recession in the latter part of the previous decade helped wipe out 20 years of progress in helping American families escape poverty and its harmful effects on children, according to the report, being released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In Alabama, the number of children living in poverty rose 19 percent from 2000 to 2009. Nationally, the rate rose 18 percent. The poverty level for a family of four was $21,756 in 2009. That is a conservative measure, said Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform and data for the Casey Foundation, and has not been revised since the 1960s.
“Something like 200 percent of the federal poverty level is closer to what it takes for a family to get by,” Speer said.
The child poverty rate peaked in 1990, dropped considerably by the late 1990s and remained stable until the last few years, Speer said.
“The increase in the child poverty rate over the course of the recession has put us back to early 1990 levels,” Speer said. “In 2009, 2.4 million more children lived in households below the poverty level than in 2000.”
The number of children living in poverty in the United States rose 18 percent between 2000 and 2009, the latest numbers collected for this year’s report. That brings the level to 20 percent of children living in poverty, essentially equal with the level in 1990.
The Casey Foundation also tracks the number of children living in low-income families, those at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, Speer said. Forty-two percent of children in the United States live in low-income families or in families living on less than $44,000 for a family of four.
Since 1990, the Casey Foundation has tracked 10 child-centered statistics including percent of low-birthweight babies, infant mortality rate, child and teen death rates, teen birth rates, the percent of teens not in school and not high school graduates, percent of teens not working and not attending school, percent of children living in single-parent families or in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment, in an attempt to get a picture of the quality of life of children in the United States.
The statistics are gathered for each state and states are ranked according to their data.
The increase in child poverty rate, along with five other worsening statistics, landed Alabama near the bottom in state rankings according to the report. The state is ranked No. 48; Alabama was ranked 47th in 2010.
There was some good news for Alabama.
One bright spot in Alabama’s statistics was a 46 percent decrease in the number of teens not in high school and not high school graduates. The number dropped from 13 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2009 earning it a rank of 29. That means more students in Alabama are staying in school.
Alabama also improved in two other indicators. The teen birth rate fell 13 percent between 2000 and 2008 to 53 births per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19. The child death rate also fell. In 2000, 27 out of 100,000 children between 1 and 14 died; in 2007, 23 died.
The Casey Foundation recommends a few things to help children and families, but Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO, admits they’re a tough sell in this economy.
States should strengthen and modernize the unemployment insurance structure and promote foreclosure prevention and help provide steady income and stable housing for families, McCarthy said. It’s also important to supplement poverty-level wages and day-care costs as well as expand access to prenatal care and health insurance, he said. Early childhood programs have proven positive effects for young children and better prepare them for success in school, he said.
Funding pumped into these areas is smart spending because it directly affects the country’s future economy, McCarthy said. For instance, unemployment insurance funding goes right out into the local economy as the families use it to provide for their needs.
“The decisions we make in 2011 should reflect our hopes and aspirations for the year 2031, for the year 2041, for the year 2051,” McCarthy said. “In other words, we need to ask how each of the decisions we make today affect the odds that our children will have the skills, the support and opportunities necessary for them to become contributing successful adults.”