Child Poverty Continues to Decline, But Disparities Persist

For Immediate Release
Thursday, September 14, 2017

For More Information Contact:

Stephanie Hogenson 
shogenson@childrensdefense.org
(612) 978-7365

Number of children in poverty decreased for 5th year in a row, but number of American Indian and children of two or more races in poverty increased 30 percent

ST. PAUL, Minn.— According to numbers released today by the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, the number of Minnesota children living in poverty* continued to decline in 2016, although not enough to reach prerecession levels. According to an analysis by Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota (CDF-MN), this is the fifth straight year child poverty has declined, though the decrease from 2015 to 2016 was not statistically significant and 160,626 children (12.7 percent) still lived in poverty — nearly 18 percent more than in 2007. However, disparities and chronic structural and institutional inequities and barriers to opportunities continue to persist for children of color. Despite decreases overall and among other racial and ethnic groups, there was a statistically significant 30 percent growth from 2015 to 2016 in the number of American Indian children and children of two or more races living in poverty.

The child poverty rate in Minnesota was 13.1 percent (165,399 children) in 2015 and 12.7 percent (160,626 children) in 2016. Despite the decline in child poverty in recent years, the data continue to show that more needs to be done in Minnesota for the economic recovery to be fully realized by lower income families, particularly for the most economically disadvantaged families (the rate of children living in extreme poverty or half the federal poverty threshold remained relatively constant at 5.6 percent) and families of color and American Indian families who have some of the highest child poverty rates in the country. Children of color make up 30 percent of the total Minnesota child population but 62 percent of the number of children in poverty.

Children living in poverty and state rank by race/ethnicity, 2015

 Race/Ethnicity  Number  Rate  State Rank
 White  65,268  7.3  3
 American Indian  4,217  27.6  17
 Asian  16,320  22.6  42
 Black  42,968  39.0  31
 Hispanic/Latino  27,528  25.7  14
 Two or more races  11,801  15.6  10
 TOTAL  165,399  13.1  4

““While it’s promising to see a continuing downward trend in the number of children in poverty, it’s alarming to see a more than 30 percent increase for American Indian children and children of two or more races over the past year. The data are a rallying cry to continue investments and target resources to promote economic stability for all Minnesotans to alleviate persistent disparities and chronic, historical systemic inequities that put far too many of our state’s future workers — and all of us — at risk for a less prosperous future,” said CDF-MN Executive Director Bharti Wahi. “With our state’s population shifting through an increasing number of retirees and a more diverse child population, our collective future prosperity depends on the success of each of our state’s children.”

Children continue to have the highest rates of poverty of any age group. The state’s youngest children experience poverty at even higher rates with 13.6 percent of Minnesota children under age 6 living in poverty. Young children are also more likely to live in extreme poverty* with 6.5 percent of Minnesota children under age six in extreme poverty compared to 5.6 percent of all children under 18. Since the early years of a child’s life is when the greatest period of rapid brain development occurs, poverty in these years has a greater effect on children’s development and future outcomes.

Other national Census Bureau data released Tuesday made clear that Minnesota and the country already know what can be done to reduce child poverty. It reported data from the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) which expands on the Official Poverty Measure by analyzing the impact of access to various government work support programs on family resources. The SPM suggests that work support programs helped lift millions of children our of poverty. Nationwide in 2016 for example, 1.5 million children were pulled out of poverty by accessing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); 1.0 million by accessing housing subsidies; 783,000 with the National School Lunch Program; 133,000 with the WIC Program; 494,000 with the Supplemental Security Income Program; 307,000 with TANF, and general assistance and 4.4 million with the Earned Income Tax Credit and other refundable credits. Research shows these programs also improve long-term health, academic and social child outcomes.

“Two-generation solutions that support working parents and increase children’s access to basic needs and opportunities are critical to improving child outcomes and beginning to address the systemic barriers that exist particularly for families of color and American Indian families. We need to continue building on recent investments in effective work support programs such as SNAP, WIC, Child Care Assistance and the EITC, to expand access and ensure all children, and all of us, can benefit from the individual and community economic and social benefits they provide,” Wahi said. “Recent policy changes in our state like increasing the minimum wage and investing in early education, child care and children’s health coverage are proven strategies to alleviate the effects of poverty and improve economic, academic and health outcomes for Minnesota children. To continue to have a growing economy and productive workforce, Minnesota must stay the course and expand these and other programs that improve child outcomes. Fully funding the Child Care Assistance Program, increasing the Minnesota Family Investment Program cash grant, and implementing a paid family and medical leave insurance program are all solutions that we can adopt to continue to increase family economic security and improve child and economic outcomes.”

According to an analysis by CDF-MN, 88 percent of income eligible families are not enrolled in the underfunded Child Care Assistance Program, which provides assistance to reduce child care costs for lower income families. The MFIP – Minnesota’s TANF or welfare-to-work program – cash grant has not been increased since 1986 and a family of three accessing the program currently receives a maximum cash grant of $532 per month, which leaves families below extreme poverty. Nearly three-quarters of Minnesota children live in families where all available parents are in the workforce, yet a majority of workers nationally do not have paid family and medical leave through their employers. Access is unequally distributed with disparities by race, ethnicity, earnings levels, work schedules, and age. Without paid leave, workers may have to choose between caring for their family members and economic hardship.

Nationally, the child poverty rate also fell, from 19.7 percent to 18 percent but children remain the poorest age group in the country with 13.2 million children living in poverty. The Census Bureau attributed the decrease in poverty nationally primarily to the decline in unemployment and increase in full-time workers, but noted the effects of income inequality continue to perpetuate economic instability among lower income people and people of color.

* Poverty is defined as an annual income below $24,563 for an average family of four, or less than $2,047 a month, or $67.30 a day. Extreme poverty is half of the annual poverty level, or less than $12,281 for a family of four. The poverty measure is the most widely known measure of family economic stability, but the cost of basic needs for a family of four far exceeds the poverty guidelines. CDF-MN estimates that even the most bare bones basic needs budget, including food, housing, health care, transportation, taxes and other necessities for a healthy standard of living, for a family of four living in the Twin Cities would be nearly $55,000. That’s more than two times the poverty guidelines.

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