Poor Rural Children: The Forgotten Fifth

[imgbelt img=PovNationalmap.jpg]Federal anti-poverty efforts began in rural America. But discussions of poverty in the U.S. now largely exclude rural communities — even though a fifth of all poor children are rural.


here. While you’re at it, check out other Carsey offerings here.) “Yet this group of vulnerable young Americans is seldom on the minds of the public or policy makers when they talk about child poverty in the United States,” O’Hare writes. “The image, rather, is overwhelmingly an urban one despite higher poverty rates in rural areas for decades.”

O’Hare reminds us that many of the nation’s major social reforms began with reports on rural poverty. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty started with a visit to a cabin in Eastern Kentucky, for example. “In recent decades, however,” O’Hare writes, “rural poverty has been overshadowed by the plight of the ‘urban underclass,’ those impoverished families living in disadvantaged neighborhoods in large cities.”

As Congress was reviewing TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) in 2002, 1,400 newspaper articles were written on the subject. But not one dealt with welfare in rural communities, according to the Carsey report. “This lack of attention is particularly vexing given that many of the barriers to moving from welfare to work, such as lack of transportation and child care services, are higher in rural than urban areas,” O’Hare writes.

O’Hare’s report for Carsey is worth reading from cover to cover. What follows are excerpts from The Forgotten Fifth:

The child poverty rate—the percentage of children living in families with incomes below the official poverty line—is the most widely used indicator of child well-being. In 2007, the poverty threshold for a family of two adults and two children was $21,027 per year.  By that measure, 22 percent of those under age 18, or 2.6 million children, in rural America are poor, higher than the child poverty rate in urban areas. One in five poor children in the country lives in rural America. These are the forgotten fifth. 

In both urban and rural America, the risk of poverty is greater for children than for any other age group. In 2007, the child poverty rate in rural America was 22 percent, while it was 15 percent for the working-age population (aged 18 to 64) and 12 percent for the elderly (aged 65+). In urban America, 17 percent of children were in poverty, 11 percent of working-age adults were in poverty, and 10 percent of urban elderly were in poverty.