WASHINGTON -- More than half of the nation's "very youngest" black children -- those under 3 years of age -- live in poverty and are sinking deeper into it, according to a study released yesterday by a leading research organization on the problems of black Americans.
Not only are the very young black children the poorest, they are also the ones with the fastest-rising poverty rates, and they will be the ones least likely to "grow out" of poverty, the study found.
"Growing numbers of them will not succeed," the study said.
The research report, titled "The Declining Economic Status of Black Children," surveyed the economic status of black children and their families over a quarter-century, from 1960 to 1985. It was based on the U.S. Census reports of 1960, 1970, and 1980 and on reports up to the mid-1980s from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey.
"The very youngest black children . . . have become especially vulnerable economically," the report said. "By 1984, over half of all black children under the age of 3 were poor, an increase of over 10 percent just since 1979."
The study was released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, whose president, Eddie Williams, described the condition and outlook of poor black children yesterday as a "national disgrace."
"Increasingly," Mr. Williams said at a luncheon forum, "the face of black poverty is the face of a child."
The study was conducted by Cynthia Rexroat, a sociologist at Clemson University and a former research associate in the center's ongoing studies of poverty among black children. She presented some of her conclusions at yesterday's forum.
The dominant cause of rising poverty among black children, she said, was "economic slippage" -- a decline in employment and earnings -- "experienced by all types of black families, whether headed by married couples, never-married women or formerly married women."
In the study, which covers 45 cities with black populations of 100,000 or more, Ms. Rexroat singled out Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Buffalo as localities in which black children have "suffered especially sharp setbacks."
Baltimore, one of the cities studied, showed general improvement in the economic condition of black children, she said, but no precise figures were available yesterday.