State officials, early childcare providers, and child advocates are celebrating the youngest community members this week in honor of the annual Week of the Young Child. Amidst our celebration of these young children who are under 6 years old, let’s review the latest available data on their economic state.
According to the United States Bureau of the Census, more children are being pushed into poverty year after year due to the economic downturn. Data show that the persistently high unemployment rate affects not only those who have lost or are without jobs but also their family members, including their children.
28.8 percent of North Carolina’s young children lived in poverty in 2010, which was defined as $22,314 for a family of four at the time. This poverty rate is 3.9 percentage points above the rate for the average child (ages 17 and under) who is poor and 11.3 percentage points above the rate for the average North Carolinian (all ages) who is poor. Children of color face even higher rates of poverty.
Of the 216,604 young children who lived in poverty in North Carolina, 103,778—or 13.8 percent—lived in deep poverty, which is defined as half of the federal poverty level. The deep poverty rate is also higher for young children compared to the average child and North Carolinian. County-level data for all children under 18 years old is available here .
Poverty’s impact on children is wide-reaching and has long-term consequences. Many children who are poor face food insecurity , lack healthcare, and live in neighborhoods experiencing high levels of poverty . As I mentioned  last month, the impact of poverty on the physical development of a young child’s brain is severe and so are the resulting harmful effects on their emotional and cognitive development—all of which can play out negatively during K-12 years well into adulthood.
Although key programs—like food stamps, unemployment insurance, and the Earned Income Tax Credit—softened the blow of the economic downturn and kept a lot of people above the poverty line, many key programs are either set to expire or face substantial cuts this upcoming fiscal year.
Large cuts to supports for vulnerable, low-income families would likely increase poverty, including child poverty rates. This should be alarming to any reader because child poverty is a leading indicator of North Carolina’s future. Rising child poverty undermines shared prosperity and a strong economy. So this week, let’s celebrate our youngest but also be cognizant of the fight we are up against.