Poverty of children worsens Problem not limited to the inner cities


A Knight-Ridder News Service graphic published in The Sun yesterday misstated a national child-poverty statistic. In 1989, 4.9 million of 12 million poor children, or about 2 in 5, lived in families with incomes below half the poverty line.

The Sun regrets the errors.

WASHINGTON -- Contrary to stereotype, only 1 in 10 poor American children is urban, black and living with a mother on welfare, according to a groundbreaking report on child poverty to be released today.

Instead, rising numbers of the 12 million poor children in the United States are more likely to be Hispanic or children living in the suburbs, says James D. Weill of the Children's Defense Fund, which published the study.

And while the number of poor children rises, poverty among the elderly is steadily declining.

"We knew the stereotypes were wrong, but we didn't know how wrong," said Mr. Weill, one of the authors of the study.

The authors hope the report will alter the notion that child poverty is mostly the problem of poor, urban black families on welfare, a view "that some Americans see as intractable and one for which they have little sympathy," the authors say.

They also believe that both Congress and the country are more willing to address the problem than at any time during the 1980s.

"People understand that the numbers of poor children are connected to other problems, like infant mortality, drugs, crime and education," Mr. Weill says. "We think there is a new national willingness to attack this problem."

The Children's Defense Fund study used 1989 population numbers, a year when the federal government defined a family as poor if its total income was $9,885 or less for a family of three and $12,675 or less for a family of four.

The study found that 1 in 5 American children is poor, a statistic that mirrors a similar finding last year by a federal commission.Among the other findings in the new study:

* Hispanics are the fastest-growing group of poor children. More than 1 in 3 Hispanic children are poor, including one-third of all Mexican-American children. Cuban children have the lowest poverty rate among Hispanic groups.

* Recessions increasingly plunge more children into poverty, and, unlike during the 1960s and '70s, economic recoveries are more and more unlikely to pull them out.

* Most poor families work. Nearly 2 in 3 poor families in 1989 included at least one worker. Two in 5 children live in families in which the father is present.

* Poor families are small. Almost two-thirds of all poor families with children have only one or two.

Nearly 1 out of 3 poor children lives in urban areas, but the fastest-growing poverty problem is in the suburbs, where a fourth of all poor children now live.

In addition, nearly half of the children in the country's 28 most impoverished counties are poor. Those counties are all in rural areas, including Appalachian Kentucky and on Sioux Indian reservations in South Dakota.

Along with disproving stereotypes about poor families, Mr. Weill says, the report's biggest surprise was that economic growth is no longer reaching poor children.

To slow the cycle, the report recommends a tax credit that would allow families to reduce taxes for each child. It also recommends a program of support insurance that would require a minimal payment for each child from any absent parent.

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