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Rising child poverty rates could be a 'taste' of what's ahead

A new Census report shows child poverty up since 2007. With many benefits for the poor – such as the Earned Income Tax Credit – expiring at the end of the year, things could get worse.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / November 29, 2011

New York

In a troubling snapshot of the declining finances of Americans, considerably more school-age children are living in poverty than in the pre-recession year of 2007, the US Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

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Of all 3,142 counties in the US, 653 counties saw significant increases in poverty for children ages 5 to 17, according to the 2010 Census Bureau survey. Only eight counties saw a decrease. Nationally, 19.8 percent of schoolchildren qualify as poor – and one-third of all counties now have child poverty rates above that threshold. About one quarter had child poverty rates significantly lower than the national average.

Among counties with at least 100,000 people, the highest child poverty rates were in Texas' Cameron County (44.9 percent) and Hidalgo County (44.6), Bronx County in New York (41 percent), Webb County in Texas (38.9), and Missouri's St. Louis County (38.6). Among all counties no matter their size, Georgia's Burke County (pop. 23,367) had the highest share of children in poverty, at 47.7 percent.

The Census information has important uses. The Department of Education uses the data in its formula for allocating more than $14 billion a year in federal funds, of which a significant amount is directed to school districts with high concentrations of poor students. Other programs, such as those that distribute federal money to libraries and school superintendents, also piggyback on the data, and even some states and counties use the information to divide up their funds.

The Education Department expenditures are “one of the main programs to allocate federal funds directly to school districts based on their school-age children,” says Wes Basel, branch chief of the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE), a program of the Census Bureau.

Unless the economy improves markedly, future data could be worse. Unless Congress acts, extended unemployment-insurance benefits will expire at the end of the year. So, too, will the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the child tax credit. These all aid low income families. Congress will also need to decide whether to extend the payroll tax cut, which gives about an extra $1,000 to each household. This tax cut has been helping the middle class.


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