New child poverty numbers show that New York state ranks last in the United States and in the industrialized world
New child poverty numbers show that New York state ranks last in the United States and in the industrialized worldFebruary 22, 2001Jill Leonhardtjlleonha@maxwell.syr.edu
According to a book on the new study, co-edited by Maxwell School professor TimothySmeeding, more than 26 percent of New York’s children live in poverty New fully comparable figures on child poverty across the industrialized world and the 50 United States show a huge disparity from country to country and state to state. While Sweden leads the world with only 2.4 percent child poverty, New York state, at 26.3 percent, ranks last in the industrialized world–behind Italy at 19.3 percent, the closest OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nation. Overall, the United States, with 20.3 percent child poverty, also ranks behind all European nations. North and South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas are the top-ranked U.S. states–with 13 percent or lower child poverty. The data come from a ground-breaking new study, outlined in “Child Well-Being, Child Poverty and Child Policy in Modern Nations” (Policy Press, 2001), which provides, for the first time, state-based poverty rates that include benefits and taxes not captured by the “official” Census Bureau poverty statistics, and ones that are comparable with those of other nations. Thus, one can compare poverty among children in U.S. states of 5 million to 20 million persons to those in European countries of about the same size. “Despite high rates of economic growth and improvements in the standard of living in industrialized nations throughout the 20th century, a significant percentage of our children are still living in families that are so poor that normal health and growth are at risk,” according to Timothy Smeeding, co-editor of the book and Maxwell Professor of Public Policy at The Maxwell School of Syracuse University. The book was edited by Smeeding and Koen Vleminckx. Forty-five North American, Australian and European authors contributed to the volume, which began as a three-day conference of the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS)–an international data repository and think-tank–on child poverty and its resolution.
For New York, the study shows that about 23 percent of the poor children live upstate, which has about 35 percent of the state’s population. The remaining 77 percentof poor children live in New York City, with about 65 percent of the state’s population. Children with foreign-born parents account for about 48 percent of the poor children in New York City, while statewide they represent about 39 percent. “These numbers are startling and worrisome,” says Smeeding. “New York child poverty is very high, and not just for immigrant kids but for white and black kids, too. The evidence in this book suggests that there is a large long-term public sector cost for poor kids in terms of health care, schools, crime and other public expenditures. Welfare reform has been a great success for many low-income families because of the strong economy. But despite the growth in employment and low-paying jobs, there is still a significant child poverty problem in the United States in general and New York state in particular. “Now, while we talk of federal and New York state budget surpluses, it’s time to make the same commitment to wiping out child poverty that we made to wiping out old-age poverty 60 years ago,” Smeeding advises. The new study underlines the need for such a comprehensive policy to reduce child poverty rates and to improve the well-being of children. It identifies specific problem areas on which policymakers committed to reducing child poverty must focus. Leadership for the policy initiatives should come from the federal government, but New York state should follow up with its own matching funds and commitment, according to the study. The identified problem areas include: ? Employment–The most important step in reducing poverty among children is to assure that at least one parent is employed. In particular, the labor market positions of mothers need to be improved, as their earnings are crucial for maintaining an adequate standard of living in a society where two-income families dominate. This is doubly true for single parents, where subsidized child care is an absolute necessity for employment. ? Parental leave, child support and child-care support–In many cases, parents, particularly single mothers, need state support to enable them to work or to adequately take care of their children. Developing adequate parental leave programs, guarantees for child support not paid, and affordable child care are important conditions for keeping mothers in the full-time work force and in preventing poverty among their children. Child support enforcement measures are important, although their potential for reducing child poverty is limited as many of the parents who fail to pay child support are more likely to be low earners themselves. ? Child-related benefits–The minimum wage is insufficient to meet the income needs of working families with children. Full-time work at the current minimum wage leaves a family of three far below the poverty line. Additional child-related tax benefits, such as those mentioned above, are necessary to ensure that working families with children are not poor. ? Investment in a socially oriented education policy–Central to the promotion of employment in a knowledge-based society is quality education for every child, regardless of his or her financial or health situation. There are indications that such policies could reduce the likelihood that child poverty is passed on from generation to generation.