A Quick Look at Child Poverty

by Reihan Salam

As of 2010, 16.4 million children (22 percent of the total number) in the United States fall below the poverty line. Of children living below the poverty line, 

12.4 percent are white (non-Hispanic)

38.2 percent are African American (non-Hispanic)

35 percent are Hispanic (can be of any race)

13.6 percent are Asian

The above numbers are all from the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. For context, the Annie E. Casey Center offers the following breakdown of the under-18 population in 2009 by race:

55 percent are white (non-Hispanic)

14 percent are African American (non-Hispanic)

22 percent are Hispanic (can be of any race)

4 percent are Asian

The numbers don’t add up to 100 because students of mixed ancestry, American Indians, and Native Alaskans add another 4 percent.

So let’s construct a crude overrepresentation/underrepresentation index, i.e., let’s divide share of under-18 population in poverty by share of under-18 population:

Non-Hispanic whites: 0.22

Non-Hispanic blacks: 2.73

Hispanic: 1.59

Asian: 3.4

I was surprised that the Asian proportion of the under-18 population is actually lower than its share of the 2010 overall population, which is 4.8 percent. This made me suspect that (a) Asians represent a large share of children from two or more racial groups and (b) that the Casey numbers for 2009 are not ideal. 

Regardless, the fact that Asian children appear to be more heavily overrepresented among children in poverty is noteworthy, and perhaps best explained by the fact that large numbers of Asian children in the U.S. have foreign-born parents or guardians, a disproportionately large share of whom might be relatively recent arrivals. A similar dynamic presumably obtains for Hispanic children.

Yet it is black children who are most overrepresented among the poor. 

The following numbers for share of children in single-parent families by race are also from the Casey Foundation:

Non-Hispanic White 24%

Black or African American 67%

American Indian 53%

Asian and Pacific Islander 16%

Hispanic or Latino 40%

Total 34%

These numbers are somewhat misleading, however, as what we really want to know is the share of children in disrupted families by race, i.e., the share of children not currently living with both biological parents. Though non-biological parents often do an excellent job, children in disrupted households are more likely to encounter various difficulties later in life. The disrupted share is considerably higher than the share of children currently in single-parent families.

It is striking that Asian children are most overrepresented according to our crude index yet they are also the least likely to be in single-parent families, which suggests that Asian families in poverty are in transition rather than entrenched in poverty.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.