9

How the fiscal cliff may affect child poverty

Children eat a meal at the Denver Rescue Mission.

Most conversations about the fiscal cliff revolve around what people can do about it -- Congressional representatives who can compromise, investors who can sell out before the end of the year, or taxpayers who can tweak their personal finances. But what about poor people -- particularly those with kids -- who don't have anything to sell or much in the way of personal finances to adjust? If we go over the fiscal cliff and some government programs are cut, things will only get worse for the poor.

Krissy Clark, a senior reporter with Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty Desk, says the official definition of poverty doesn't even include things like child care and cell phones. She says the federal government started officially defining poverty in the 1960s. Technically, the poverty line was calculated to be the minimal yearly income a family would need to spend one-third of their after-tax income on food.  That means, theoretically, that they'd have enough leftover to cover other basic necessities like clothing and shelter as well. As the standard of living has changed over the years, things like transportation to work, child care, computers and a cell phone can be almost as essential for holding down a job and getting by in daily modern life, but they aren't included in the official poverty calculation.

Clark says certain groups are more vulnerable to poverty than others. Poverty rates for African-American and Hispanic children exceed the national average of 22 percent, according to U.S. Census data. About 37 percent of African-American children live in poverty and the poverty rate for Latino children is just over 34 percent. Meanwhile, 12.5 percent of white children live in poverty. Clark says there are many reasons for the difference in numbers.

"Part of the problem is once you're poor, it's hard not to be poor for generation after generation. So if you are a child born to parents in the bottom fifth of the income scale, you're more likely to stay at the bottom in the U.S. then you would be in countries like Canada, Britain, Germany and France," she says.

One reason for the increase in child poverty is that across the country people are facing stagnant wages while the cost of living rises. Because a lot of the well-paying manufacturing jobs are moving overseas, the work available to poor people without a college education tends to be in the service sector for low wages. So even though more people in poverty are working and have jobs, they remain poor.

"What's kind of scary is that... a lot of the programs that poor families rely on are really at stake right now," Clark says.

About the author

Krissy Clark is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.
Log in to post9 Comments

Gee Jane, way to get on your high horse and be insulting. I am neither a fascist or an asshole thank you very much. Nor did I say ONE WORD about only the wealthy should have children. I said that having 3 children before 22 may be PART of the reason the gentleman profiled in the story is having trouble making end meet. Family planning is not rocket science. Maybe access to family planning is a problem that can be improved.

In reference to the comments being made about the 22-year old father it is important to note that people who are low-income have poor access and education about family planning and have little access to contraceptives (in regards to women). While I do not believe in restricting anyones reproductive rights, we as a society in particular our backwards and historical legislation on "abstinence-only" programs have failed our youth. Much reform is needed in education, healthcare access (thank god for the Affordable Care Act) and the federal minimum wage should be raised according to the cost of living. I live in CA and $8.00 is the minimum wage that means monthly, a person makes less than $1300 and depending on where you live that could very well be what you pay for rent and commuting to work (I doubt a person making that salary could afford a car). So to say that a person brought on their own poverty is mistaken and continues to blind us from understanding the real complex problems... which then perpetuate bad policy. Also, I know for some folks saying that a person is poor because of their own bad choices is an easy way out of having a responsibility to your fellow citizens to improve the quality of life for everyone, not just oneself.

In reference to the comments being made about the 22-year old father it is important to note that people who are low-income have poor access to education about family planning and contraceptives (in regards to women). While I do not believe in restricting anyone’s reproductive rights, we as a society in particular our backwards historical legislation on "abstinence-only" programs have failed our youth. Much reform is needed in education, healthcare access (thank god for the Affordable Care Act). Additionally the minimum wage should be raised according to the cost of living. I live in CA where $8.00 is the minimum wag… that means monthly, a person makes less than $1300 and depending on where you live that could very well be what you pay for rent and commuting to work (I doubt a person making that salary could afford a car). So to say that a person brought on their own poverty is mistaken and continues to blind us from understanding the complexity of the problem... which then perpetuates bad policy.

I don't usually think of Marketplace Money as taking a simplistic "politically correct" view on complex topics, but blaming "the economy" for the problems of a 22-year-old single man with 3 young kids who can't make ends meet is stretching things way too far. Childhood poverty has risen in great part in the last half-century in this country because starting in the 1960s, relatively large numbers (compared to earlier decades) of the poorest women began (and still continue, now) to have children without having a economically viable father/marriage partner. The best economy in the world can't do much to help a single 22-year-old man, likely with no college education, with 3 kids, just as it certainly can't do much to help a single woman in such dire straits. All that can be offered is remedial welfare, at that point. I consider myself a liberal, and am all for individual rights and all that good stuff, but when adults exercise their "rights"to have as many kids as they want, no matter what their familial or material circumstances, and the result is an increase in children living in poverty, something has gone really wrong in society. And the fact that we can't talk about it honestly, that we have to tiptoe around it and be so PC, is a sign of something else gone really wrong.

At what age do you think people had children in the 40's, 50's and 60's? Did you know that teen births have declined since the high 1957. Let me help you understand some things.In the 1940's, my Grandfather made approximately $125 dollars a month, his family lived well. There was no minimum wage law. In 1949, the minimum wage was raised from 40 cents an hour to 75 cents an hour. As an adult in the 1950's you could earn $275.00 a month and live okay. Shit…A gallon of milk was .82 cents and gas .20 cents a gallon a new car was only a couple grand. By 1959, an adult with earnings of $700.00 a month, married, two children, new home, car, furniture would live well and still able to save money. Today you couldn’t afford the housing cost alone and hope to feed a family of 4. Here’s the "PROB" MAN, many companies for example Wal-Mart seems to think they don’t have a responsibility to pay their employees a livable wage…this allows for crazy profits which allow the top executives to live like czars. By the way; Approx 98% of Wal-Mart employees receive Federal Income assistance of some kind.

The gentleman profiled in the story had 3 children and was only 22. Did it ever occur to him that having 3 children that early is partly why he is not able to make ends meet? I wonder how much poverty is related to making poor choices about childbearing without adequate resources to raise the children?

Right… having children should be a luxury for wealthy people. Just give a vasectomy or a tubal to everyone below the poverty line. That would be a lot easier than bringing back good jobs that will pay the bills. Yes this is sarcasm you !@#$^&* fascist.

People who cannot afford children should quit having them. Kids cost a lot of money. When you do not have the means to support them, don't have them and then expect the taxpayers to pay for them when we have limited our number of children and are working just to keep our heads above water.

I'll tell you like I told the other fascist asshole... having children shouldnt be a luxury for wealthy people. I know many people below the poverty line who live within their means and are great parents. Do you see? The problem isn’t that low income people have a desire to become parents. The real concern is that ones appeal to do so is based on a person’s value in dollars. That type of wicked totalitarian conjecture is un-American.

With Generous Support From...