One in 10 Kids Persistently Poor

August 3, 2010

This article is included in these additional categories:

African-American | Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Data-driven | Financial Services | Men | Non-Profit | Uncategorized | Women | Youth & Gen X

While a majority of US children never experience poverty, one in 10 classifies as “persistently poor,” according to a recent study from The Urban Institute.

Six in 10 Kids Never Poor, 1 in 10 Persistently Poor
Sixty-three percent of children enter adulthood without experiencing poverty, but 10% of children are persistently poor, spending at least half their childhoods (or nine-plus years out of 18) living in poverty. Another 17% are poor for one to three years and 10% are poor for four to eight years.


Black children are roughly 2.5 times more likely than white children to ever experience poverty (77% of black children experience poverty for at least one year, compared to 30% of white children), and seven times more likely to be persistently poor (37% of black children compared to 5% of white children).

Poverty Occurs in Spells
Few children who are poor for multiple years have a single uninterrupted poverty spell. Rather, children tend to cycle into and out of poverty during time. Among children who are poor nine years or longer, only 17% have a single uninterrupted poverty spell.


On the other hand, 58% of these children experience three or more shorter poverty spells, and 25% experience two poverty spells.

A similar pattern holds for children poor between four and eight years: 15% have an uninterrupted four- to eight-year poverty spell, while 48% experience three or more poverty spells.

Black children experience more poverty spells than white children. For example, 69% of ever-poor black children experience more than one poverty spell, compared with 52% of ever-poor white children. These racial differences disappear, however, after accounting for number of years poor.

Poverty at Birth Indicator of Future Difficulties
Children who are born into poverty have much higher rates of economic and educational difficulties in their adult years. Among adults, 4% who were not poor at birth have been poor for half or more of their lives between age 25-30, compared to 21% who were poor at birth. Among whites, these rates are 2% and 6%, compared to 17% and 41% for blacks.


Similarly, 7% of adults who were not poor at birth have no high school diploma, compared to 22% who were poor at birth. These rates are 6% and 24% among whites. Interestingly, the rate of not having a high school diploma is higher among blacks who were not poor at birth (11%), but lower among blacks who were poor at birth (20%).

In addition, only 10% of adults who were not poor at birth were involved in a teen non-marital birth, compared to 31% who were poor at birth. These rates are 6% and 18% for whites, and 40% and 38% for blacks.

Poor at Birth Men More Consistently Employed
Employment shows some unexpected statistical results, however. Among men who were not poor at birth, 72% were consistently employed between age 25-30, compared to 76% who were poor at birth. Among white men, there is an even greater discrepancy in favor of those poor at birth (88% had consistent employment between 25-30, compared to 73% who were not poor at birth.

Among black men, however, not being born poor provides a considerable advantage in later consistent employment (69% compared to 36%). And among women, whether tracked in general or by ethnicity, not being poor at birth leads to higher rates of consistent employment.

Recession Hits American Jobs, Wallets
The current recession is having a negative impact on Americans regardless of whether they were born into poverty, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center. More than half (55%) of US adults have felt some type of negative work-related impact from what is generally seen as the ongoing “Great Recession,” with about one-third (32%) of adults in the labor force have been unemployed for a period of time during the recession, generally considered to have begun in December 2007.

Another 6% have been underemployed, meaning they want full-time employment but cannot find it due to economic reasons. And when asked about a broader range of work-related impacts, 55% of adults in the labor force say that during the recession they have suffered a spell of unemployment, a cut in pay, a reduction in hours or an involuntary spell in a part-time job.

About half the public (48%) say they are in worse financial shape now than before the recession began; only one in five (21%) say they are in better shape.

About the Data: This analysis uses data from the 1968 through 2005 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), a longitudinal survey that interviewed respondents annually from 1968 to 1997 and biennially thereafter. A key feature of the PSID is that children of the original sample members are followed after they leave their parents’ households, thereby making it possible to examine individuals’ childhood experiences along with their adult outcomes. The PSID survey collects a host of information on individuals and families, including income, family size, employment, educational attainment, marriage, childbearing, age, race, and gender.

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