Rise in Childhood Poverty Follows Recession, Impacting Education

A recent study suggests that non-Hispanic white children have had the largest change in terms of living in high-poverty neighborhoods.
Published: July 21, 2017

A surge in children living in high-poverty neighborhoods following the Great Recession has significantly impacted schools, according to a recent study.

The new study released by researchers at Rice University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin titled “Family Poverty and Neighborhood Poverty: Links With Children’s School Readiness Before and After the Great Recession” suggests that the number of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods has increased. Those children are also a year behind academically, according to standardized math, reading and writing assessments.

“The data clearly suggest that both family and neighborhood poverty are useful indicators for identifying children who may need extra supports in terms of school readiness skills, and that the characteristics of children who may be in need of these services has changed to include a larger portion of children”, read part of the study. “Regardless of family poverty status, on average these children compared poorly with their peers in more affluent neighborhoods.”

Some factors researchers suggest may be causing the education gap include overall safety and quality of neighborhoods and available resources such as high-quality educational programs. Environmental factors may play a role as well, such as exposure to toxins and noise pollution.

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Childhood Poverty in Numbers

The study included data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Program which examined kindergarteners in the U.S. from 1998 to 2010.

In 1998, 36 percent of children lived in moderately-low poverty, moderately-high poverty, or high-poverty neighborhoods. In 2010, that number jumped to 43.9 percent.

The study defined a high-poverty neighborhood as one where 40 percent or more of its residents live below the poverty line. Moderately-high poverty is defined as one where 20 to 39.9 percent live below the poverty line, and moderately-low as one where 14 to 19.9 percent live below the poverty line.

The study also broke down those numbers by race. From 1998 to 2010, non-Hispanic white children had the largest change in terms of living in high-poverty neighborhoods. Non-Hispanic white children were 13.2 percent more likely to live in poverty-stricken neighborhoods in 2010 compared to 1998. Non-Hispanic black children were 4.1 percent more likely and Hispanic children were 5 percent more likely.

Rachel Kimbro, a sociology professor at Rice University and a contributor to the study, noted that these numbers do not mean that things have improved for minority groups; it suggests that things have gotten worse for non-Hispanic whites. Higher-income families have been moving into high-poverty neighborhoods at an alarmingly high rate due to reasons such as foreclosure or job loss.

Kimbro says that although more white children are living in higher poverty neighborhoods post-recession, minority children are still significantly more likely to live in higher poverty neighborhoods.

“Regardless of individual family income, there is something about living in a higher poverty neighborhood that negatively affects education outcomes,” she said. “This is a topic that should be of great concern for educators and policymakers alike.”

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