Prosperity Watch Issue 29, No 4: Poverty Maintains Fierce Grip on Children, Particularly on Children of Color

Despite moderate economic growth from 2011 to 2012, North Carolina saw no meaningful improvement in either poverty rates or household incomes over the same period.  New US Census data confirm that children continue to be the poorest age group in the state and nation, with children of color facing a disproportionately higher poverty rate. As North Carolina shifts to a majority-people-of-color state, persistently high poverty rates among young children of color have long-term implications for the state’s economic future.

In 2012, North Carolina’s state’s child poverty rate was 26 percent in 2012, climbing well above the national rate of 22.6 percent. Poverty among the state’s children has grown by nearly 7 percentage points since the Great Recession began in 2007. Even more troublingly, children of color are facing crisis levels of poverty that are more than double the rate for white children in some instances. By the numbers, the child poverty rate was 40.9 percent for African Americans, 43.6 percent for Latinos, and 44.1 percent for American Indians compared to  18.8 percent for whites (see chart below). The federal poverty level was $23,492 annually for a family of four in 2012.

Startlingly, the poverty rate for children under 5 was even higher, jumping to 47.1 percent for African Americans, 46.5 percent for Latinos, and 53.2 percent for American Indians compared to just 22.2 percent for whites. Given these high rates of child poverty, it is clear that the Great Recession and its aftermath has exacerbated long-standing significant disparities in the economic conditions and opportunities between white North Carolinians and communities of color that have persisted throughout the state’s history.

Research shows that child poverty can have devastating consequences, damaging a child’s development that can play out negatively during K-12 years and dampen their earning potential during adulthood. Because child poverty is a leading indicator of North Carolina’s future, these disturbing trends underscore the critical importance of investing in family economic security and shared economic growth across communities of color and all North Carolinians.


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