Sustained Outrage

The long reach of childhood poverty

A new report by the Urban Institute is a depressing reminder about how devastating — and far-reaching — the effects of childhood poverty can be. The study, Childhood Poverty Persistence: Facts and Consequences, examines the relationship between poverty status at birth, the amount of time spent in poverty as a child (under the age of 18) and “subsequent adult outcomes.”

The results may seem obvious, but the numbers are startling nonetheless. More than one in three, or 37 percent, of children experience poverty at some point, and 10 percent spend at least half of their childhoods living in poverty. Being born poor is also a strong indicator of future poverty: between 40 and 60 percent of children born into poverty remain poor throughout their entire childhoods.

Generally speaking, the more time a child lives in poverty, the more likely they are to be poor as adults and to have a child out of wedlock as a teenager, and the less likely they are to graduate from high school and stay consistently employed as an adult. For children who spend 9 years or more of their childhood in poverty: 32 percent are poor for more than half of their adult years; 23 percent fail to earn a high school diploma; 43 percent will have a child out of wedlock as a teen; and only 34 percent of men and 28 percent of women will maintain consistent employment.

The study concludes:

Some children appear resilient to childhood poverty and are able to avoid negative outcomes. Understanding the characteristics and experiences of persistently poor children who successfully transition to adulthood would provide important information about what persistently poor children need and what can help them become successful adults. As it stands, however, too few children born into poverty manage to escape its ill effects, and more can be done to both lift children and their families out of poverty today and to help poor children achieve better outcomes as adult.

The poverty rate in America is 13.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In West Virginia, the rate is 17.2 percent, and recent figures indicate that 23.9 percent of West Virginia’s children live in poverty.