California will face serious economic challenges and struggle to maintain its prosperity as a state if it fails to address mushrooming childhood poverty. Prosperity Threatened, our analysis of the latest Census Bureau data found that childhood poverty is endemic among California’s fastest-growing demographic segment – Hispanics – with nearly one in three Hispanic children in California living at or below the poverty line. The report contrasted these statistics with poverty data on seniors—of whom fewer than 1 in 10 live in poverty.
“We can’t honestly separate our state’s economic future from current poverty rates among our kids,” said Ann O’Leary, Vice President and Director of the Children and Families Program at the Center for the Next Generation and co-author of the new report. “Our ability to thrive as the world’s ninth largest economy depends on having an educated, healthy and stable next generation of workers. We’re headed in the opposite direction.”
Prosperity Threatened details a trend of increased childhood poverty in California that accelerated during the great recession of 2008-2012, and contrasts the statistics about children with those of seniors. The numbers show that, even though poverty among seniors increased during the recession, it did so at a much slower rate. And while five California counties saw childhood poverty fall between 2006 and 2011, 16 counties saw a reduction in senior poverty during the same time period.
“We’ve taken steps to provide our seniors with some level of assurance that they’ll be cared for in their later years,” said O’Leary. “California’s grandparents should ask why their grandkids don’t get the same treatment.”
The report further found a correlation between education levels and childhood poverty rates; counties with the highest number of parents with college degrees also enjoy the lowest levels of childhood poverty; the inverse was also true.
“While the economic implications of childhood poverty are stark, we have a moral obligation here that should take precedent,” O’Leary said. “I don’t think we want to be know as the state that abandoned our kids.”
The report recommends that state leaders made tackling childhood poverty a central component of any economic recovery plan. Leaders can start by targeting more school funds to the state’s school districts with the highest concentrations of poor students and ensure that as California expands access to health insurance, the state also makes it easy to access other critical benefits that increase family income security such as child care assistance, paid family leave, and CalFresh (food stamps).