The recession’s effect on children: More kids face homelessness, poverty

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

The worst recession in a generation hit the nations' children's especially hard, according to a new report.

A larger number of children fell into poverty between 2008 and 2009 than was ever recorded before in a single year, going back to 1960. Nearly 21 percent of children lived in poverty as of 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, making children more likely than any other age group to be poor.

The number of homeless children in America's public schools increased by 41 percent between the 2006 and 2008 school years, a recent report by the Children's Defense Fund says. Homelessness among pre-school aged children spiked by 43 percent over the same period. These children are more likely to repeat a grade, fall ill, suffer from mental disorders like anxiety and go hungry than their peers, according to data from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.Mississippi, Washington, D.C., Arkansas, Kentucky and New Mexico are the states with the highest percentages of poor children. A family of four that makes $22,500 a year or less is considered to be living in poverty.

Meanwhile, 80 percent of black and Hispanic students and 50 percent of white students were unable to read or do math at grade level in 2009. (Though in more hopeful news, a recent study shows that low-income public school kids have on average shown improvement on state tests since 2002.)

According to MaryLee Allen, the director for child welfare at the Children's Defense Fund, researchers are concerned that the 2010 data, which will be released next month, will be even worse. Food stamp usage has increased for the past 37 months, suggesting that poverty is still on the rise, even as the economy has slowly added jobs. Child poverty may have increased to as many as one in every four children in 2010, Allen said. "We'd love to be proven wrong but we're very concerned that we're going to continue to see that increase," she said.

The New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote that the findings suggest the country is creating a "generational underclass born of a culture that has less income equality and fewer prospects for mobility than the previous generation." He added, "It's hard to see how we emerge from this downturn and its tumult a stronger nation if we allow vast swatches of our children to be lost. My fear is that we may not."