Child Poverty, the District's Other Pandemic
Previous efforts to lift Black and brown families out of poverty aren’t enough. DC must confront systemic racism and break down structural barriers in order to end concentrated child poverty.
Washington, DC — Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Council of the District of Columbia are poised to pass a $16.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2021. This historic budget will have a significant impact on how the District manages this economic and health crisis, as well as lasting repercussions for our children and youth, particularly in areas such as early childhood education and health. As lawmakers debate the budget, new data released today show that before the pandemic hit, approximately 23% of DC children lived in poverty, above the national average of 18%.
Today, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 2020 KIDS COUNT® Data Book — the most comprehensive annual report on child well-being in the United States. This report notes measurable progress across the country in a number of areas since the first Data Book, which was published in 1990.
Nevertheless, 29,000 children living in the District of Columbia – roughly 28,000 of whom are children of color – were among the 13 million US children who lived in poverty in 2018, the latest year for which data are available, and serious racial and ethnic disparities persist.
Furthermore, 23% lived in high-poverty neighborhoods, a higher percentage than every state except Mississippi. Even when compared to other major cities, rather than to states, this is a higher percentage than in cities such as Denver, Las Vegas, Oakland, Raleigh, San Francisco, Seattle, and Virginia Beach. In the District, this concentrated poverty is extremely racialized: while 37% of Black children lived in high-poverty neighborhoods, only one percent of white children did.
“In order to effectively combat the concentrated poverty that persists, we first have to courageously take on historical racism and systemic barriers that hold children of color back. The advocacy community has pushed for significant strides to take apart discriminatory systems and instead build comprehensive systems that reach children in early childhood,” said Kimberly Perry, executive director of DC Action for Children. “A part of that building is centering voices of Black and brown parents, educators, community leaders, and youth to demand progress and institutionalize change, which requires bold new investments and data-informed policy solutions.”
The KIDS COUNT® Data Book shows how accurate data are necessary for making sound policy and addressing child poverty. The 2010 census missed approximately 5,000 young children in the District, which has implications for planning around schools and neighborhood assets like healthcare facilities and housing. The current 2020 census will play a vital role in addressing some of the persistent challenges of poverty. It will be essential for the District to make every effort to gather all responses, especially those from low-income households. According to the data available, 20% of DC residents live in hard-to-count areas. The stakes are high: 55 major federal programs, including Head Start and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, allocate more than $880 billion each year based on census data. As of June 18, 57.6% of DC households had responded to the 2020 Census, below the national average of 61.6%, and in some parts of the city the rate is less than half that.
The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation uses 16 indicators to examine each state across four domains — health, education, economic well-being and family and community — to assess child well-being. Other highlights of the 2020 DC profile are:
- 37% of children in 2018 lived in households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Only California, Florida, and New York had higher percentages. When families must spend significant portions of their incomes on housing, it leaves their budgets pinched for other necessities like food, health, expanded learning, transportation, and other important expenses.
- Only 30% of the District’s fourth-graders are proficient readers, with big racial gaps. While 79% of white fourth-graders were reading proficiently, only 27% of Latinx students and 19% of Black students were proficient. Reading proficiency in the early grades is linked to future success and high school graduation.
- 37% of children lived in households where neither parent has full-time, year-round employment (with this share likely having risen substantially since the pandemic). This is higher than the national figure of 27%. Parents’ consistent employment with livable wages is essential for a family’s economic security.
- 10% of babies were born with a low birth weight – a higher percentage than every state except Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Birth weight is an indicator of infant health.
The 2020 KIDS COUNT Data Book is the 31st edition of an annual data study that is based on the U.S. Census and other publicly available data, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
The 2020 KIDS COUNT® Data Book will be available June 22nd at 12:01am EDT at www.aecf.org. Additional information is available at https://www.aecf.org/resources/2020-kids-count-data-book/. Journalists interested in creating maps, graphs and rankings in stories about the Data Book can use the KIDS COUNT Data Center at datacenter.kidscount.org.
About DC Action for Children
DC Action for Children is a nonprofit, nonpartisan child and youth advocacy organization dedicated to using research, data, and a lens toward race equity to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. DC Action for Children and DC Alliance of Youth Advocates recently merged to form an even stronger, independent voice for children and youth. DC Action is the home of DC KIDS COUNT, the primary source for data on conditions and outcomes for kids’ well-being. DC Action's collaborative advocacy campaigns empower young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. Learn more at www.dcactionforchildren.org or follow @DCAction4Kids on Twitter.
About the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org.