Lynda Johnson Robb, the daughter of President Lyndon Johnson, speaks at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's declaration of the "war on poverty," on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 8, 2014. The Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2015 Kids Count released Tuesday found more American children are living in poverty today than they did before the economy bottomed out in 2008. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
BALTIMORE, July 21 (UPI) -- Even with the steadily improving job market and the economy gaining ground, more American children are living in poverty today than they did before the economy bottomed out in 2008.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2015 Kids Count report found that nearly 22 percent of children nationwide were living in poverty in 2013, compared with 18 percent in 2008. The poverty rates, families of four living on $23,624 a year, nearly doubled among black and American Indian children, with the biggest problems in the Southwest and the South.
The report, which looked at state and federal data from 2008 to 2013, found nearly one-third of children are living in families where no parent is employed full time and even if working full time, the wages and benefits are not adequate to support a family. Since 2008, the number of children living in poverty has risen some three million, from 13.2 million to 16.1 million.
Despite policies and programs in place designed to boost families through the economic downturn, many families have been left behind, said Laura Speer, the foundation's associate director for policy reform and advocacy. Speer said even though the unemployment rate has lowered from 7.5 percent in June 2013 to the current 5.3 percent, it doesn't make a difference in the number of children in low-income neighborhoods.
"It's a much bigger issue that's happening relating to residential segregation, the cost of housing and other factors," Speer told USA Today.
Minnesota holds the top spot for overall child well-being, followed by New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, and Vermont. Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi rank lowest. The number of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods -- with poverty rates more than 30 percent -- is the highest since 1990.
"Although we are several years past the end of the recession, millions of families still have not benefited from the economic recovery," said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. "While we've seen an increase in employment in recent years, many of these jobs are low-wage and cannot support even basic family expenses. Far too many families are still struggling to provide for the day-to-day needs of their children, notably for the 16 million kids who are living in poverty. We can and must do better: we can make policy choices to lift more families into economic stability."
Child psychiatrist Joan L. Luby, director of Washington University's Early Emotional Development Program, penned an editorial in the journal JAMA Pediatrics this week highlighting the links between poverty, low academic performance, and delays in the development of the brain's frontal and temporal lobes. Children living in poverty are also more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression as they get older.
"Our research has shown that the effects of poverty on the developing brain, particularly in the hippocampus, are strongly influenced by parenting and life stresses experienced by the children," Luby wrote.