Dangerous Gaps: As inequality rises, 30 percent of Americans live close to the edge and huge proportions of minorities and young children are poor


September 26, 2019

Editor’s note: The Coalition on Human Needs issued the following statement Thursday in response to new state and local data released by the Census Bureau.

Not everyone is benefiting from economic growth. New state and local survey data from the Census Bureau show a poverty rate of 13.1 percent in 2018, down from 13.4 percent over the previous year.  While the downward trend is good news, the data continue to show troubling disparities. Income inequality rose nationwide. More than 30 percent of all people in the U.S. have incomes less than twice the federal poverty line (just under $40,000 a year for a family of 3). In 24 states and Puerto Rico, at least 30 percent of people had incomes this modest – above poverty, but on the edge.

Poverty is declining for communities of color as well, but African Americans, Latinx, and American Indians and Alaska Natives remain disproportionately poor. “The racial poverty gap is an old story in our nation,” said Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a national advocacy group focused on reducing poverty. “The new data continue to show stubbornly high poverty rates for all African Americans, Latinx, and American Indians. But poverty is far worse for our youngest children, during their crucial developmental years. Failing to help families with young children to raise their children out of poverty threatens our future.”

More than one-third of Black children under 5 were poor, three times the rate for White alone, not Hispanic young children. More than one in four Hispanic children under 5 were poor. Over half of American Indian and Alaska Native children under 5 were poor (51.2 percent).

Overall, 21 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had poverty rates as high or higher than the national rate of 13.1 percent in 2018. Of those, 11 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico had poverty rates of 15 percent or more. In Puerto Rico, 43.1 percent were poor. The national child poverty rate was 18.01 percent.  In 21 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico, child poverty rates were at or above the national rate; in 13 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico, at least one in five children were poor.

Throughout the states, poverty is extremely high among African American and Latinx children under 18.  The national average Black alone child poverty rate was 31.7 percent in 2018. Twenty-two states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico had rates higher than the national figure; in 11 states plus Puerto Rico, poverty rates for Black children were over 40 percent. Among Hispanic children (who may be of any race), the national poverty rate is 25.5 percent; 29 states plus Puerto Rico had higher child poverty rates than the national level. Sixteen states plus Puerto Rico had child poverty rates of 30 percent or more.

Non-white children under age 15 are a majority of all U.S. children. “Our future is in danger if we do not make it an urgent national priority to dramatically reduce all child poverty, with special attention to the disastrously high levels of poverty among young African American, Latinx, and American Indian/Alaska Native young children,” said Weinstein. “Rising inequality in a time of economic growth tells us that federal and state governments are not doing enough to invest in the health, nutrition, and education of our children, and not doing enough to require businesses to raise wages.”

Click here to see a table with 2018 data from the American Community Survey, showing total poverty, under 200 percent of poverty, and child poverty with certain race/ethnicity details, for 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Census poverty data