Children face the highest poverty rate in North Carolina compared to other age groups according to data released last week by the US Census Bureau. After more than five years into an economic recovery, one in four children (25.2%) in North Carolina remained in poverty in 2013 –unchanged from 2012 and higher than the national child poverty rate (22%). At a time when we are experiencing an economic recovery, it is troubling that our state’s child poverty rate is not declining and remains significantly higher than the national average.
The numbers become even more meaningful when considering the disadvantages children in poverty face: less access to early education programs and high quality schools, food insecurity, higher stress levels and higher dropout rates, among other risk factors. Recent findings in brain development research also warn of the impact of toxic stress associated with poverty on a young child’s developing brain. Toxic stress can weaken the architecture of a child’s brain, creating long-term challenges that make it hard for one to be economically secure as an adult. Other numbers are rising for children across the nation and in North Carolina that we certainly don’t want to see on the rise. Infant mortality and child mortality has increased in North Carolina. There has also been a rise in the number of homeless school children, according to recently released national data. Both are indicators of poverty’s tight grasp on America’s and North Carolina’s children.
Looking more deeply into the child poverty rate, there are also some stark differences between white children and children of color in North Carolina. For example, the poverty rate for white children under age 18 is 14.7 percent, whereas the poverty rates for American Indian, Black, and Hispanic and Latino children are all more than twice as high – 39.5 percent, 39.3 percent and 41 percent, respectively. The poverty rate for Asian American children sits closer to white children at 14.4 percent. Similar differences persist when looking at children under age 5, with almost one in two American Indian, Black, and Hispanic or Latino children living in poverty.
In light of poverty’s stubborn grip on North Carolina children and families, ensuring that policies are in place that help alleviate child poverty is extremely important. Unfortunately lawmakers in North Carolina have made policy choices recently that contradict some of the strongest policy solutions to alleviate child poverty. One of the best anti-poverty tools for children is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which helps low-income families keep more of what they earn to help provide basic necessities to children. State lawmakers chose to let the state’s EITC expire, meaning the 2013 tax year was the last time that families were able to receive this vital support. In an era when a full-time worker cannot support even one child on a minimum wage job without falling into poverty, a strong state EITC becomes even more critical.
Increasing opportunities for low-income children to access high quality early education and high quality public schools is also a proven anti-poverty tool. Yet again, North Carolina lawmakers have failed by underfunding our public school system and refusing to address growing waiting lists in our pre-K and child care subsidy programs. The path forward is clear, we need to make investments in what we know works to help prevent and eliminate child poverty, policies like the EITC and strong investments in our public schools and early education system.
This is the fourth post in a series that takes a detailed look at the 2013 US Census Bureau poverty data released on September 18th. The first post looked at how North Carolina is faring overall. The second post looked at how poverty varies by race, and the third post compared poverty by counties in North Carolina. Read the entire series here.