The federal government classifies a family as poor if its pretax cash income falls below a certain minimum standard. This standard was established by dividing the average expenditure for a minimally adequate diet by the average share of family income spent on food. The federal poverty line is adjusted for family size and for changes in the average cost of living in the United States, but it is not adjusted for regional or local differences.
The number of children living in low-income families is quite large. In addition
to the five million children under six whose families were officially poor in 1987,
7 million lived in near poor families, with incomes between 100 percent and
150 percent of the poverty line. Many of these families have as much difficulty as
officially poor families purchasing food, shelter, and medicare, and other needed goods
and services. Some have even more difficulty making ends meet because of there
ineligibility for various forms of noncash assistance available to the poor, or because they
are unaware that such assistance is available. It is often hard also to distinguish between
children living near poverty, and children living in poverty. In the book Five Million
Children focuses on three important issues of poor children under six: who are they
and where do they live, why are they poor, and what risks do poor children
The information presented pertains to children who live in houses and
apartments because this is the population founded by household surveys. According to
three national studies of homeless children aged 16 and under, somewhere between
41,000 and 106,000 children are literally homeless at any given time.
the live in shelters, churches, or public places with no permanent residence. Between
39,000-296,000 are precariously housed meaning they live with either relatives or
doubled up with friends. Families with children represent about one-third of the
The primary cause of homelessness s the lack of affordable housing in many
communities. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,
affordable housing should consume no more than 30 percent of adjusted household
However, five out of six poor renter households in 1985 spent more than 30
percent of adjusted household income on rent. In 1985, when about 60 percent of al poor
households were renters; the typical (median) poor renter household paid 65 percent of
its adjusted income on housing. That is, half of all poor renters households had rent and
utility costs exceeding 65 percent of their adjusted income.
To help pay the costs of housing, many poor families share their house or
apartment with other families or individuals. In 1985, 28 percent of all poor renter
households were doubled up. this represents an increase of nearly 100 percent since
Government housing assistance has not kept pace with needs.
The number of
poor renter households not receiving any federal housing assistance grew from about 4
million in 1979 to 5.4 million in 1987. As of 1988, fewer than one in three poor renter
households received help through federal housing programs.
Another issue I wish to discuss is why poor families with young children are poor.
It is believed that children are poor because there parents are poor. Child poverty can
only be reduced by attacking the multiple causes of family poverty.
Children under the
age of six with single mothers are much more likely to be poor than those living with two
parents, but 38 percent of poor young children live in married-couple families. The
proportion of all U.S. children living in mother-only families more than doubled between
1960 and 1987, from 9 percent to 20 percent. Some of the factors contributing to this
change were rising rate of separation, divorce, and childbearing outside of marriage.
This trend, coupled with much higher poverty rates among mother-only families than
among married-couple families, accounts for the gradual feminization of poverty in the
The greatest risk of poverty is faced by children born outside of a marriage who
grow up with single parents.
The proportion of women giving birth outside of marriage
has increased dramatically over the past three decades, and children born outside of
marriage who grow up with single mothers are likely to .