A new brief from the Washington-based Urban Institute – “Childhood Poverty Persistence: Facts and Consequences” – presents a sobering look at the life outcomes of children who are born into poverty or spend at least half their childhood in poverty. “This study,” the brief notes, “is the first to highlight the relationship between poverty status at birth and children’s poverty persistence and subsequent adult outcomes.”
At some point, more than a third (37%) of children live in poverty, which the federal government defined as $22,050 for a family of four in 2009. Ten percent of children are persistently poor. That means they spend 9-18 years – at least half their childhood – in poverty. Almost half (49%) of children who are born into poverty are persistently poor. For children who are born into poverty, the chances of negative outcomes are disturbingly high:
- One-fifth (22%) do not graduate from high school, compared with 7% of children who are not born into poverty.
- One-fifth (21%) spend at least half their early adult years in poverty, compared with 4% of children who are not born into poverty.
- Almost one-third (31%) of girls have a non-marital birth as teenagers, compared with 10% of girls who are not born into poverty.
As troubling as these statistics are, it reinforces our commitment to an intervention that research demonstrates mitigates these negative effects of childhood poverty. It is high-quality early education. Low-income children who attended high-quality preschool programs are 40% less likely to need special education services or be held back a grade, 30% more likely to graduate from high school and twice as likely to attend college. They are also substantially more likely to have jobs with health insurance and command higher lifetime earnings. Check out this chart for a summary of the research on high-quality early education.
“By following children from birth through age 30, we capture the experiences and outcomes of people over critical periods in their lives,” the Urban Institute brief notes. “Understanding the link between poverty status at birth and future outcomes provides important practical program and policy implications.”
For us, that means ensuring that all children have access to high-quality early education and care.