Over 16 million American kids now live in poverty—and that’s 3 million more than when the Great Recession hit

Things aren’t looking up for America’s children.
Things aren’t looking up for America’s children.
Image: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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If you aren’t looking down, things appear to be looking up in the United States. The economy has rebounded from its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In June, unemployment fell to 5.3%, down from over 10% in 2009.

But things aren’t as rosy as they appear, especially if you stop looking at the adults and start worrying about the children. According to a new report (pdf), “Kids Count,” released on July 21 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, over 16 million American children were living under the federal poverty line in the US in 2013, a increase of 3 million from 2008.

The 16 million constitute 22% of all American children—a four-percentage-point increase from 2008—and exactly half of the 44% of American children in low-income families. In 2013, the federal poverty line was an income of $23,624 for a family of four with two children; low-income is any family making less than double that, or $47,248.

How could a drop in unemployment coincide with a rise in child poverty? Florencia Gutierrez, a senior research associate at the Casey Foundation, blames an increase in low-wage jobs. “The recovery is leaving millions of our children and our families behind,” she tells Quartz.

Unsurprisingly, children from ethnic minorities are faring far worse than white children. According to the report, 39% of African American and 33% of Hispanic children lived in poverty in 2013, versus just 14% of non-Hispanic white children. (Those proportions have risen since 2008 for all the ethnic groups.)

This racial divide in child poverty levels is especially concerning, says Gutierrez, because white children will soon be a minority in America. “The minority will soon be the majority, and if the outcome of our minority children continues to be poor, the economic sustainability of our country will be jeopardized,” she says.

The Casey foundation also used an “Overall Child Well-Being” index, which combined economic, health, education, and family data to rank each state in the US. In another not-so-shocking conclusion, southern states dominated the bottom of the ranking—none came higher than 26 out of 50—with Mississippi winning the race to the bottom. Surprisingly, the state with the highest overall child well-being was Minnesota, stealing the title for the first time in almost a decade from a state in the country’s northeast.

Not all the results were so pessimistic, however. In health and education, US children are faring better than before. In 2012, only 19% of high-school students did not graduate on time, down from 25% in 2008. And slightly fewer American fourth-graders lack proficiency in reading—66%, down from 68% in 2008, though clearly that’s still not a figure to brag about. In terms of health, meanwhile, just 7% of American children are uninsured, down from 10% in 2008, and only 6% of teenagers are abusing drugs or alcohol.