Child Poverty Grew in ‘80s, Study Finds : Families: Over one-fourth of children living in major cities were classified as poor in 1989, group reports.


The pervasiveness of poverty among American children grew during the past decade, resulting in inadequate medical attention and schooling for the nation’s underprivileged youth, a child advocacy group said Tuesday.

More than one-fourth of children living in cities with populations of 100,000 or more were classified as poverty-stricken in 1989, the Children’s Defense Fund reported in the first city-by-city survey of its kind conducted since the 1990 census.

Detroit had the worst ranking in the survey, with 47% of its 296,543 children under the age of 18 living below the poverty line. The study said 28% of the children in Los Angeles were impoverished, but it treated the neighborhood of East Los Angeles as a separate entity, and said the child poverty rate there was 32%.


The CDF study, which is based on Census Bureau figures, examines the percentage of children living in households with income below the government’s official poverty line. At the time of the study, the threshold was $13,000 for a family of four. Recent Census figures show that 31 million Americans, or 12% of the overall population, live below the poverty line.

The Washington-based advocacy group found that 26% of the children it studied were living in poverty in 1989. The study also shows that childhood poverty is not concentrated within the nation’s biggest urban areas, but extends into many smaller cities and suburbs as well.

The city-by-city survey mirrors findings of other studies. A report released by CDF last month showed that California has the most poor children of any state. That report concluded that 11.2 million American children, or about 18%, lived in poor families in 1989. The number has increased by 841,000 as a result of the recession, the organization said.

“Extraordinarily high levels of child poverty have become pervasive in America,” CDF President Marian Wright Edelman said in a prepared statement.

Edelman called for Senate passage of the House-approved Children’s Initiative, a bill designed to reduce child abuse and increase food stamp assistance. She also urged expansion of youth employment programs.

Jim Weill, who helped prepare the CDF report, said that while the nation as a whole grew wealthier during the 1980s, the disparity between rich and poor grew.


Child poverty is accompanied by reduced prenatal care, poorer nutrition and decreased academic performance, Weill said. Approximately 10,000 American children “die of poverty” each year, he added, citing as examples deaths attributable to inadequate medical care and malnutrition.

Although Los Angeles fares better than many cities in the CDF study, its authors noted a significant racial disparity among Southern California children. While 20% of white youths live below the poverty line in Los Angeles, 38% of black children and 35% of Latino children are impoverished.

The CDF figures challenge common stereotypes about child poverty, particularly the image of poor children as predominantly black residents of the nation’s largest urban areas.

Only a third of the nation’s poor children live in cities with populations of more than 100,000, the study found, while only one in six poor children living in these cities is black. Just 10% of the nation’s poor children fit the standard stereotype of a black child living in a city with a single mother who receives welfare, the report states.

Child Poverty in California

Here is how various California cities or areas ranked in child poverty in a survey of 200 U.S. cities. The figures show the percentage of children living below the poverty line: Fresno: 36.9 East Los Angeles*: 31.6 Oakland: 30.3 Sacramento: 28.6 Los Angeles: 28.0 Long Beach: 27.3 Pasadena: 22.7 Inglewood: 22.2 Glendale: 21.5 San Diego: 19.8 San Francisco: 18.6 Anaheim: 15.3 Riverside: 15.0 Garden Grove: 14.6 Torrance: 6.9 Huntington Beach: 6.7 Simi Valley: 3.8 * Rates were tallied separately for East Los Angeles and the rest of the city.

Source: Children’s Defense Fund