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16% of Children Live in Extreme Poverty, Report Says

May 01, 2003|Elizabeth Levin | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The number of African American youths living in extreme poverty is at its highest level in the 23 years such statistics have been kept, according to a report released Wednesday.

More than 932,000 African Americans under age 18 are in that category, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Children's Defense Fund.

The advocacy group described children as living in extreme poverty if their family had an after-tax income -- including housing, food stamp and school lunch programs -- below half the federal poverty threshold. For a family of three in 2001, the most recent year available, the poverty threshold was measured at $14,128, so the income level indicating extreme poverty for that size family would be a maximum of $7,064 a year.

Nationwide in 2001, 16% of children were living in families with incomes below the poverty threshold, said the National Center for Children in Poverty, a research organization based at Columbia University in New York. Of those children, 30% were African American, 29% Latino and 13% Caucasian.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 03, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 90 words Type of Material: Correction
Children in poverty -- An article Thursday in Section A quoted Census Bureau data as indicating that, of the 16% of children classified as living in poverty in the United States in 2001, 30% were African American, 29% were Latino and 13% were white. In fact, those were the percentages of all children in each race group who were classified as living in poverty. The Census data indicates that 30% of all African American children, 29% of all Latino children and 13% of white children lived in poverty in 2001.

J. Lawrence Aber, the center's director, said extreme poverty has far more severe effects than mere poverty. Children living in extreme poverty enter school less ready to learn and have higher rates of illness, more social and emotional problems and greater difficulty with language development.

Changes in public-assistance programs that once provided a "safety net" for these families have led to the increase in extreme poverty, Aber said.

"There is no doubt that there are families that have not been able to make the transition from welfare to work and are now not receiving benefits," he said. "When these families lose benefits, their children slip into extreme poverty."

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, criticized the Bush team for not providing sufficient assistance to the worst-off families. "In the first year of the economic downturn, much progress made by families was wiped out," Edelman said. "We need welfare policies that work in tough times as well as good times."

California's child poverty rate has remained higher than the national average since 1993. In 2000, 18.6%, or 2.1 million, of California's children were poor, compared with 15.8% nationwide, according to the NCCP.

More of California's youths live in families with high risk factors for poverty. They live in single-parent families or their parents are immigrants or have lower levels of education, Aber said. Likewise, more African American families live in poverty because of a high rate of single-parent families and employment discrimination, he said.

Many of California's low-income jobs do not provide enough money for families to get by, said Amy Dominguez-Arms, vice president of Oakland-based Children Now. "The real problem is that working doesn't always equal making enough to sustain one's family," she said.

Dominguez-Arms suggested making a plan to ensure that all children get what they need for healthy development. "We need a safety net for the poorest children whose parents can't find work," she said. "We need to ensure that folks who are working but aren't able to earn enough get the help they need."

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