There’s an old saying about the crisis of being born: “You can’t pick your parents.” There’s another unspoken — yet harder and uncrackable — chestnut that rings truer and harsher: “You can’t pick your income level.” For children across the world, that reality means millions are condemned to lifelong suffering because they were born into poverty without any sort of clear economic path for breaking free of that chain.
Here’s the hard truth in America:
Nearly 13 million American children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, which is $20,000 USD a year for a family of four. The number of children living in poverty increased by more than 11 percent between 2000 and 2005. There are 1.3 million more children living in poverty today than in 2000, despite indications of economic recovery and growth.
- Nationwide, 18% of children live in families that are officially considered poor (13 million children).
- Across the states, child poverty rates range from 7% in New Hampshire to 27% in Mississippi.
- 20% of children under age 6–1 in 5–live in poor families; 16% of children age 6 or older live in poor families.
- In half the states, more than 20% of children under age 6 are growing up in poverty, whereas only 13 states have a child poverty rate (that is, for children up to age 18) that is as high.
- Researchers believe that parents of young children do not earn as much as parents of older children because they tend to be younger and have less work experience.
The nationality of your parents has a big effect if you are born poor or not:
- 26% of children of immigrants are poor; 16% of children of native-born parents are poor. (Children living with one immigrant parent and one native-born parent are not included.)
- In the six states with the largest populations of immigrants–California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas–the poverty rate among children of immigrant parents ranges from 14% to 40%.
- In all six states, children living with immigrant parents are more likely to be poor than children of native-born parents.
The color of your skin also defines the course of your life from the moment of your first breath:
- 35% of black children live in poor families.
- In the 10 most populated states, rates of child poverty among black children range from 20% in New Jersey to 43% in Ohio.
- 28% of Latino children live in poor families.
- In the 10 most populated states, rates of child poverty among Latino children range from 20% in New Jersey, Florida, and Illinois to 35% in Texas.
- 29% of American Indian and 11% of Asian children live in poor families (comparable state comparisons are not possible due to small sample sizes).
- 10% of white children live in poor families.
- In the 10 most populated states, rates of child poverty among white children range from 4% in New Jersey to 12% in Georgia.
Here are some other undeniable facts concerning worldwide child poverty from UNICEF:
- A child born today in the developing world has a 4 out of 10 chance of living in extreme poverty and this poverty defines every aspect of the child’s existence, from malnutrition, lack of clean water and inadequate sanitation, to life expectancy.
- Poverty is the main underlying cause of millions of preventable deaths and the reason why children are malnourished, miss out on school or are abused and exploited.
- Poverty is at the core of a pervasive violation of children’s rights.
Gender also plays an important role in forging the unforgiving chain of child poverty:
- A girl born to poverty is more likely to marry early and have a child while still an adolescent.
- A malnourished girl becomes a malnourished mother, who will give birth to an underweight baby and, like their parents, poor children are likely to transmit their poverty to the next generation.
If you’re looking to make a difference, you can make a donation to UNICEF right now to help a poor child create a better life.