It is widely understood that adult outcomes are tied to childhood life experiences and family economic circumstances. Yet this country, among the world's richest, has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the world. For black children, the rate is exponentially worse. As a result, black children and youth are less likely to graduate high school, finish college, land good jobs or raise children who aren't poor. Improving adult outcomes and ensuring more adults lead productive lives requires addressing childhood poverty, particularly among black children who are more likely than their counterparts to grow up poor.
A recent Urban Institute brief, Childhood Poverty Persistence: Facts and Consequences, explores childhood poverty and its relationship to adult outcomes. The study used Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) data from 1968 through 2005 to examine both the occurrence and duration of poverty among all children and by race, from birth through age 17. It analyzed poverty status at birth, number of years in poverty, the frequency of children cycling in and out of poverty, and proportion of children living in persistent poverty (defined as living at least half of their childhood in poverty). The study also examined the relationship between these factors and adult outcomes. Researchers tracked the progress of adults ages 25 to 30 who grew up poor to examine determine how they faired in household income, educational attainment, and employment.
The results tell a grim tale of the nature of poverty for black children and the long-term consequences. Among the study's findings:
The majority of black children spend part of their childhood in poverty. 77 percent of black children experience poverty at some point in their childhood, with 37 percent of them being persistently poor.
Black children are more likely to experience poverty than white children. Black children are 2.5 more likely than white children to ever experience poverty, and 7 times more likely to live in persistent poverty.
Being poor at birth is a significant predictor of future childhood poverty. Children born in poor families are significantly more likely to live in persistent poverty than children born in higher income families. 69 percent of black children who are poor at birth remain persistently poor.
For blacks, being poor at birth is also a significant predictor of poverty in adulthood. While whites born poor appear more likely to lift themselves from poverty in early adulthood, 41 percent of blacks who were poor at birth spend at least half of their early adult years living in poverty.
Children in poverty are less likely to complete high school. Children born in poverty are three times more likely to drop out of high school. Generally, the longer a child is poor, the less likely that child is to complete high school.
Impoverished black boys are less likely to work as young adults. While males born poor are more likely to be consistently employed as young adults, black males born poor are 33 percent less likely to have consistent employment. For males who were consistently poor, the outcomes are even worse. Among all men, black or white, only one-third of persistently poor boys go on to have consistent employment in early adulthood.
The educational and employment outcomes for children in poverty point to particular problems that contribute to multi-generational poverty, particularly for black children and their families. Failure to complete high school significantly limits career prospects and how much an individual can expect to earn long-term. For black boys born poor, the employment findings are particularly disheartening because they show that during critical years of career building and wage progression, black males are less likely to be working. When black males lack consistent employment in young adulthood, it creates lifelong economic hardship that will impact their children. As part of its mission to improve the lives of low-income people, CLASP advocates for policy solutions to reduce poverty across age ranges and population groups. Low-income families need access to opportunity for children and adults, including early education, postsecondary education and job training. Low-income youth, especially those in high-poverty communities, need supports to stay in school or reconnect with education systems and the labor market. Adults who are low-income need basic skills, workforce training, and access to postsecondary education, not only to attain and maintain employment, but to move along career pathways to good jobs that will move them out of poverty.
To learn more about other key policies, read CLASP's Federal Policy Recommendations for 2010 for specific policy ideas for achieving healthy and thriving families and improving the nation's prosperity.
Learn more about the advocacy group CLASP.