Poverty rises, but kids are doing OK

Child poverty is up — but so is “child well-being” — according to the Foundation for Child Development. Child well-being is up more than 5 percent since 2001 in the index, which evaluates 28 factors.

Families are struggling to pay the bills with “falling median income and less secure parental employment, all shown to be associated with higher chronic stress on children and families,” notes Education Week.

From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of children living in families below the poverty line has increased from 15.6 percent to 21.4 percent; a third of this increase in child poverty occurred between 2001 and 2007—before the most recent recession.

But other things improved.

. . . Last week’s horrific school shootings in Connecticut notwithstanding, children as either the victims or perpetrators of violent crime has fallen more than 60 percent from 2001 to 2011. Likewise, the index shows children are less likely to do drugs or become parents as teenagers. They are more engaged in their communities and have slightly better educational attainment, though growth in preschool enrollment has stalled since the recession.

“Parents got a lot more active in the lives of their children,” says Kenneth C. Land, a Duke sociology professor who was the lead researchers. It’s not just affluent “helicopter parents,” Land says. “Even parents of more down economic status are monitoring their children more and being more involved.”

More children live in poverty

The child poverty rate soared to 20 percent because of the recession, according to the Kids Count analysis of children’s well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“The recent recession has wiped out many of the economic gains for children that occurred in the late 1990s,” said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the Casey Foundation, as the report was released Wednesday. “Nearly 8 million children lived with at least one parent who was actively seeking employment but was unemployed in 2010. This is double the number in 2007, just three years earlier.”

The wave of foreclosures has increased housing problems for families with children.

Some 42 percent of children live in families under economic pressure, which Kids Count defines as $43,512 a year, or twice the federal poverty line for a family of four. That’s “a minimum needed for most families to make ends meet,” Speer says.

New Hampshire (11 percent), Minnesota (14 percent), and Massachusetts (13 percent) have the least child poverty, while Alabama (25 percent), Louisiana (24 percent), and Mississippi (31 percent) have the most.

While more children are living in poverty and in single-parent families, some child well-being factors have improved since 2000, including infant and child mortality, the teen birth rate and the dropout rate.