Roughly 19.7% of U.S. children were living in poverty last year, down from 21.1% in 2014, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
AAP leaders said the rate is still far too high, and pediatricians must continue advocating for improvements to the workforce and federal assistance to move the needle dramatically.
“Obviously, we still have a way to go because children remain the poorest segment of the population,” said Andrew D. Racine, M.D., Ph.D., FAAP, chair of the AAP Poverty and Child Health Leadership Work Group.
The data are published in three reports: Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015 (http://bit.ly/2c8hsRR), Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2015 (http://bit.ly/2ctwUUr) and The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2015 (http://bit.ly/2ctwKzx).
The reports show the poverty rate for all ages last year was 13.5%, down from 14.8% in 2014. Roughly 19.7% of children, 12.4% of adults ages 18-64 and 8.8% of those ages 65 and over are living in poverty.
Last year’s median household income of $56,500 was a 5.2% increase from 2014, according to federal officials. While it is still below 2007 levels, it marked the first annual increase since that time.
“Job opportunities are clearly the greatest influence on whether children as well as other people in the country continue to live in poverty,” said Dr. Racine, system senior vice president and chief medical officer at Montefiore Medical Center.
Federal assistance in forms like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and earned income credit (EIC) also impact poverty levels. The percentage of children living in poverty drops to 16.1% when taking into account such assistance.
AAP President Benard P. Dreyer, M.D., FAAP, called for an expansion of EIC, increase in the minimum wage and assistance for families to pay for child care and housing.
“If we did all those things, we could dramatically decrease child poverty levels,” he said.
The “bright finding” in the new reports, he said, was a decline in the rate of uninsured children. Roughly 5.3% were uninsured last year compared to 6.2% the year before.
“Each year it’s been dropping and it has been due to the efforts of pediatricians, of the AAP and of good-minded politicians,” Dr. Dreyer said. “It’s been the one bipartisan issue that has really been successful and remains successful.”
Poverty and child health remains a strategic priority plank on the AAP 2016-’17 Agenda for Children, and the Academy’s advocacy work in 2017 will include pushing for the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Pediatricians can learn more about combating poverty both in their practices and through advocacy by reading the AAP policy Poverty and Child Health in the United States.
“This is a marathon not a sprint,” Dr. Dreyer said. “We know what needs to be done. We just have to continue to push.”