Child Poverty in the States: Levels and Trends from 1979 to 1998

Bennett, Neil G.; Lu, Hsien-Hen

This research brief from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) uses the official measure of poverty and the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau to document the levels of child poverty in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. (In 1998, the official poverty threshold for a family of four was $16,660.) It also examines long-term trends in child poverty between 1979 and 1998 in each state. Further, it looks at the components of those trends, specifically during two distinct periods (1979—1993 and 1993—1998) that are defined by the national business cycle and by major changes in policies affecting low-income families, particularly the overhaul of state and federal welfare laws. After years of economic growth, the U.S. child poverty rate recovered from its 1993 peak of 22.5 percent to fall to 18.7 percent in 1998, still significantly higher than its 1979 level of 16.2 percent. The number of children in poverty in the U.S. increased from 10.3 million in 1979 to 13.3 million in 1998. The U.S. child poverty rate continues to be unusually high from an international perspective. After increasing by almost 40 percent from 1979 to 1993, the child poverty rate fell by one-sixth (17 percent) from 1993 to 1998. While the improvement in the poverty rate since 1993 is encouraging and important, it continues to lag well behind the decreases in the unemployment rate and the national welfare caseload. There is also wide variation among the states in their current child poverty rates and trends in those rates over the past two decades. In contrast to the first research brief in this series, which focused on children under age six, this research brief includes poverty rates among all children under age 18. By casting the net wider to include all children, NCCP is able to get reliable state poverty estimates for a single year in time. (Please note that poverty rates among children under age 18 are somewhat lower than those for children below age six.)

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National Center for Children in Poverty
National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University
Published Here
July 12, 2010