NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Heritage Study: Factors Associated With Child Poverty

August 9, 2001

There is a longstanding disparity between black and white child poverty rates in the United States. In 1999, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 33.1 percent of black children lived in poverty compared with 13.5 percent of white children.

But Heritage Foundation researcher have found child poverty rates are driven primarily by single-parent households and dependency on welfare benefits. When these and less significant factors are taken into account, the racial disparity in child poverty rates disappears.

Examining data from the U.S. Department of Labor's National Longitudinal Survey of Youth covering the period 1979 to 1999, researchers found:

  • More than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of black American children were born out of wedlock in 1999, compared to less than one-third (26.7 percent) of white children.
  • Black children were five times more likely to be dependent on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the government's largest welfare program -- which was succeeded by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) in 1997.
  • Black children also live in poverty longer than whites -- 46.9 percent of their time since birth compared to 26.7 percent for whites.
  • Yet when black children and white children are grouped by levels of single parenthood and welfare dependence the poverty rates for both groups are nearly identical, they found.

The analysts found that marital status, in turn, was an important factor in welfare dependency:

  • Nearly half (44.5 percent) of all children born to never-married mothers depend on AFDC, compared to a fifth (20.4 percent) of those born out of wedlock whose mothers later married.
  • But only a tenth (10.7 percent) of the children born to married couples who subsequently divorce end up relying on AFDC, as do a mere 2.5 percent of those whose parents' marriages remain intact.

Source: Robert Rector, Kirk A. Johnson and Patrick F. Fagan, "Understanding Differences in Black and White Child Poverty Rates," May 23, 2001, CDA Report No. 01-04, Center for Data Analysis, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue N.E., Washington D.C. 20002, (202) 546-4400.


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