The good news is the U.S. poverty rate has fallen slightly in recent years. The bad news is that poverty remains high, particularly for Black children, and now for the first time there are more Black children in poverty than white. This news provides further proof that Black people are being left behind in what is an economic recovery for some, as institutional racism continues to take its toll on the well being of society’s most at-risk populations.
According to a study released by Pew Research Center, in 2013 Black children were almost four times more likely to live in poverty than white children. Further, while childhood poverty fell from 22 percent in 2010 to 20 percent in 2013, it has remained constant for African Americans. At 38.3 percent, Black children have the highest rate of poverty among all racial and ethnic groups. White children have a poverty rate of 10.7 percent, while Asian children have a rate of 10.1 percent and Latino children have a rate of 30.4 percent. At 5.4 million, Hispanic children are the poorest in absolute numbers. But for the first time, the number of impoverished Black children (4.2 million) has surpassed the number of white kids in poverty (4.1 million), although there are far more white children than Black children in America.
A total of 14.7 million children lived in poverty in 2013, which is defined as a family of four living on an annual income below $23,624. The poverty rate is tied to the unemployment rate, the New York Times notes, as children with unemployed parents are more likely to be unemployed. Further, as the Huffington Post reports, Black unemployment has remained high in the economic recovery at 9.5 percent, compared to 4.7 percent for whites, according to the latest Department of Labor report. For decades, the Black jobless rate typically has been double the rate for whites, reflecting the systemic nature of racism and economic opportunity in the U.S.
An enormous racial wealth gap exists in America, one which has widened since the Great Recession. As Mike Konczal and Bryce Cover wrote in The Nation in January, redlining is the source of the wealth disparities between Blacks and whites, and the cause of Black America’s financial woes.
“Housing segregation deprives black families of the opportunity to build wealth through their homes. African-American borrowers were twice as likely to be affected by the foreclosure crisis as white borrowers, in part because they were preyed upon by lenders peddling high-cost subprime mortgages during the bubble,” the authors wrote. “These lenders took advantage of the lack of access that black families have to traditional low-cost mortgages.”
Konczal and Cover add that the Great Recession “devastated what little ground black people had gained in building home wealth: by 2010, whites had six times the wealth of blacks, up from four times the wealth in 2007. With the housing market’s recovery, the median net worth of white households today is thirteen times higher than that of black ones. Median wealth for black families fell 33.7 percent between 2010 and 2013, while white households saw theirs rise.”
Even high income Black people cannot escape living in communities with high poverty, they argue, as half of all children in middle- and upper-class families are raised in impoverished neighborhoods, compared with just 1 percent of whites.
NBC News suggested in March 2015 that wealth may even be more important than a degree or a high paying job. According to an analysis of 2011 data, the Black Americans with college degrees have less in savings and other assets than white high school dropouts, with the former having only two-thirds the net worth of the latter.
Further, over half a century since the U.S. Supreme Court school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, public schools remain segregated, with a system that tracks students of color and keeps them away from a path to educational achievement. As The Atlantic reported in November 2014, “You can … look in a classroom and know whether it’s an upper level class or a lower level class based on the racial composition of the classroom.”
In an effort to prevent wealthy white families from fleeing to private schools, school systems develop “gifted and talented” and advancement programs, and relegate Black children to lower-level classes.
The recent Pew report sounds the alarm on Black childhood poverty and the deepening systemic crisis facing the African American community. With a poverty level of over 38 percent, Black children in America are the canaries in the coal mine.