Child poverty rate is up sharply

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 16, 2011 - 7:18 PM

A new Kids Count report shows that the number of children in extreme poverty has doubled since 2000.

Minnesota's child poverty rate leapt to 14 percent in 2009 -- with minority families faring worst -- despite a high rate of working parents, according to a new report by the state branch of the Children's Defense Fund.

While Minnesota had the nation's fifth-lowest poverty rate for white children that year, its child poverty rate for Asian-Americans was the nation's highest and its rate for African-American children was fifth-highest.

The racial divide was one of several showing a widening gap between haves and have-nots in Minnesota, said Kara Arzamendia, research director of Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota, which produces the annual state Kids Count report.

Income levels have risen over the past decade for high-wage earners, but have stagnated for low-wage earners.

The latest economic recession cannot fully explain these trends and disparities, Arzamendia said, as child poverty has trickled up from 9 percent in 2002 to 11 percent in 2008 to 14 percent in 2009.

Family expenses have outpaced job growth over the same time frame. "It's the deterioration of the ability of families to be economically secure," she said. "That really takes a toll on parents and their ability to raise their children."

The annual Kids Count report collates existing data from the U.S. Census and other sources to provide a broad portrait of children's well-being in Minnesota.

Minnesota's median income is above average ($69,746 for families raising children) and its rate of families in which all available parents are working (76 percent) is one of the nation's highest, the report said.

Still, many families simply can't keep pace, despite full-time jobs, the report found. Citing data from the Jobs Now Coalition, the report noted that a Twin Cities family of four would need $59,484 a year to meet basic needs. That would require both parents to earn $14.30 per hour, full-time. But the median income offered in current vacancies is only $11.50 per hour.

Not only has the number of children in poverty risen 53 percent since 2000, but the number of children in extreme poverty (household income below $11,025 for a family of four) has doubled.

Arzamendia said state leaders could address these trends by increasing the state minimum wage, currently at $7.25, and providing other supports for working families such as additional child-care assistance. Families with household incomes below $20,000 are currently committing 29 percent of their take-home pay to child care, on average.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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