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Why minority kids are being left behind by the economic recovery

Child poverty is worse now than it was before the Great Recession, despite strides toward economic recovery. That's according to a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which found that rates were most severe for African-American and Native American children. Gwen Ifill talks to Annie E. Casey Foundation President Patrick McCarthy and Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The economy may be recovering from the great recession, but a new report finds many have been left behind, especially children.

    The findings from the Annie E. Casey Foundation show 22 percent of U.S. children were living in poverty in 2013. That’s compared to 18 percent in 2008. Those rates were nearly double among African-American and Native American children, with problems most severe in the South and the Southwest.

    Some of those conclusions also echo a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center. It found black children were almost four times as likely as white children to be living in poverty.

    Joining me to discuss the cause and the effect of these sobering numbers are Patrick McCarthy, the president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center.

    Mark Hugo Lopez, why these populations in particular, why are they suffering?

  • MARK HUGO LOPEZ, Pew Research Center:

    Well, when you take a look at unemployment rates particularly, you will see that, for African-Americans in June, unemployment was 9.6 percent. For whites, it was 4.5 percent.

    That’s almost — the unemployment rate for African-Americans is almost double that of whites. And that’s an important part of explaining the story of why many children live in poverty. Many of their parents either are not fully employed, are unemployed or can’t find work.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, Patrick McCarthy, some people might think this wasn’t surprising. We know in some ways that minority populations are at a disadvantage, yet when you look at the numbers overall, in fact, fewer white children are in poverty.

    Why are the numbers heading in the wrong — opposite directions?

  • PATRICK MCCARTHY, President, Annie E. Casey Foundation:

    Well, I think there’s a number of reasons that we have to look at here.

    The economy, as it’s recovered, certainly has produced jobs for some populations, but we know that the recession took out a lot of lower-skilled jobs and low-wage jobs that had been held by African-Americans and Latinos.

    And as the economy has recovered, although a lot of the jobs that had been restored are low-wage jobs, the folks who lost their jobs, who have had kind of a precarious grasp of those jobs, are having a much harder time getting employed again.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, here’s one thing which struck me, which is that we’re not talking just about percentages. Right? We’re talking absolute numbers.

  • MARK HUGO LOPEZ:

    That’s right; 14.7 million children live in poverty.

    And when you take a look at the Hispanic children in poverty, that number is about five million. For black children, those numbers are about 4.2 million. So, really, when we’re talking children in poverty, a significant share, more than half, are either black or Hispanic children.

    But we’re also seeing some other big changes. As you noted, the number of white children living in poverty has declined. It looks like it might even be below the number of black children in poverty, which would be a first in at least 30 or 40 years. And for Hispanics, there are more Hispanics living in poverty. And that’s been the case since 2007, particularly for children.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Patrick McCarthy, let’s talk about two states.

  • PATRICK MCCARTHY:

    Sure.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Mississippi, Minnesota.

    Mississippi is the worst state by these measures, and Minnesota is the best. What’s the difference?

  • PATRICK MCCARTHY:

    Well, there are a lot of differences that go into this.

    Obviously, there are kind of large macroeconomic differences between the two states. They have very different economies. We know that, just as we have been discussing, African-American families in particular are suffering after the recession. Mississippi has a much higher number of African-American families living in Mississippi compared to Minnesota.

    We actually think also that there are differences in how states made policy choices. We know not only Minnesota but a number of states in the Northeast and Midwest have made their policy choices. We know that not only Minnesota, but a number of the states in the Northeast, the Midwest, have made choices around providing health care, providing early childhood education, providing a bridge to jobs, providing supports for folks who do become unemployed, and that makes a difference as well.

    So it’s partially the economic forces at play, the kinds of jobs that are available in those states, and it’s partially the policy choices that states make.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, a policy choice, for instance, might be prizing deficit reduction over social welfare programs.

  • MARK HUGO LOPEZ:

    That’s right, and social welfare programs that, say, might even be focused on children.

    So, some states have done some policy choices, as Patrick has noted, that have been emphasizing more broadly what’s happening in the state and less so to help children particularly.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let’s talk about the long-term effect of these kinds of numbers, first of all, educational attainment.

  • PATRICK MCCARTHY:

    So, one of the things that I think we sometimes miss when we talk about the numbers, and they seem so large, and talk about percentages, is we lose what it means to be in poverty, the day-to-day grind of not being sure you’re going to be able to take care of your kids, the inability to find a job that you can rely on week after week after week, having to figure out at the end of the month do you pay this bill or that bill, the kind of stress that takes on you as not only a worker and as an individual, but as a parent, which then begins to affect the children.

    They’re living in an environment where there’s a lot of stress. Put on top of that the fact that one in seven American children are living in neighborhoods of high poverty, so they’re surrounded by other people who are struggling with the same kinds of issues, often with poor schools, the a safe place to play, surrounded by crime.

    Then you start to see the long-term effects of that on children, trauma, chronic stress, et cetera, that literally starts to narrow their opportunity, make it tougher for them to be successful in school, long-term research showing impacts even on their health as they become adults. So poverty is the driver of many, many of the social ills that this country faces.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What would you add to that?

  • MARK HUGO LOPEZ:

    When we take a look at the long-running effects of poverty, particularly when it comes to, say, labor market opportunities, what are these young people going to be trained for? What sort of jobs will they be able to hold? And when it comes to completing college, for many of them, they may end having to try to work to help to support their parents or their other siblings who are still under the age of 18.

    So, poverty could put a lot of stress, particularly when you think about Hispanic children, many of them who go on to college say that one of the reasons why they do not stay in college is because they have got to return home to help family.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What are the policy solutions, if there are any, if this is identified to be a major problem?

  • PATRICK MCCARTHY:

    So, we think there are three things that we ought to look at. And we need to start with thinking about a two-generation strategy, by which we mean simultaneously investing in families and parents and in the children themselves.

    So the three things that we think you need to do is, number one, recognize we’re in a transitional economy, and so it’s tough for especially folks without a lot of skills to make enough money to support their families. So, we have got to think about things like expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, the child tax credit, recognizing the importance of unemployment benefits and other supports for families, so they can have the economic means to take care of their kids.

    Second, we have to recognize they are both workers and they are parents, so we have got to help them have the social and emotional skills they need to do right by their kids. And, third, we need to invest heavily, in my view, especially for children who are in poverty, in early childhood programs, in quality preschool, in quality early education, so they get on that path towards opportunity.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Mark Hugo Lopez of Pew Research Center, thank you both for the numbers and the story behind the numbers.

  • MARK HUGO LOPEZ:

    Thank you.

  • PATRICK MCCARTHY:

    Thank you.

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