Last week the Census Bureau released data on income, poverty, and health insurance, which showed a slight decline in the national poverty rate (from 14.7 percent in 2015 to 14.0 percent in 2016). There was an even sharper decline in the poverty rate for children under 18 years old, from 19.7 percent in 2015 to 18.0 percent in 2016. While any decrease in poverty is welcome news, national numbers can hide the stark differences in poverty rate by race.
Native American, African American, and Hispanic children continue to face the highest poverty rates, all hovering around 30 percent. Despite a small increase in Native American median household income over the year, 1 in 3 Native American children were in poverty in 2016—completely unchanged from 2015. Native Americans are the only ethnic or racial group where child poverty did not go down this year. African American and Hispanic children saw the largest percentage point decrease over the one year period (-2.1 percentage points and -2.3 percentage points, respectively), but still, approximately 1 in 3 children live in poverty. Native American and African American children are also three times more likely to be in poverty than white children. Similar to 2015, Asian childhood poverty rates continue to be similar to white children, and below the overall national childhood poverty rate.
Childhood poverty declines when working parents are able to find quality jobs with a decent wage and benefits including child care and paid family leave. While the federal minimum wage sits at $7.25, many states and localities have increased their minimum wages, which helps lift working families out of poverty. At the same time, government programs including Social Security, refundable tax credits, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are directly responsible for keeping tens of millions out of poverty across the country. While some policymakers continue to try and gut the investments that cut poverty in half year-in and year-out, such as Medicaid and affordable health care, broad-based wage growth is the best way to fight poverty.