The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Pushing Children into Poverty


Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King


Regardless of their political persuasion, Americans understand that when unemployment rates climb, so do the rates of child poverty. Somehow, however, the nation’s progressive thinkers cannot—or will not—recognize that rates for child poverty also soar when parents do not marry or do not stay married. But the empirical evidence implicating family disintegration as a cause of child poverty continues to grow, regardless of whether progressives wish to acknowledge it. The latest such evidence appears in a study of child poverty recently completed by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

To identify the social and economic predictors of child poverty, the North Carolina scholars examine a county-level data set, drawn from census reports extending from 1990 to 2010. Quite predictably, the researchers find that “on average, the unemployment rate in a county is a very strong predictor of [child] poverty.” But after statistical analysis of their data, the researchers conclude that “alongside unemployment, high proportions of female-headed households with children and lower aggregate educational achievement levels are also significant predictors of child poverty.” Indeed, the researchers stress that in the final and most sophisticated treatment of their data, “these two variables have predictive power similar to the unemployment rate.”

In their interpretive conclusion, the researchers acknowledge that “the highly time-resistant strong spatial clustering of [child] poverty and its related predictors in this country suggest the United States is making little progress over time in addressing this persistent social and ethical issue.” They understandably believe that as the nation goes forward, “job creation and amelioration of high unemployment must remain part of the policy mix.” Their findings would seem to justify strong efforts to enhance education as well.

However, only the ideologically blind will fail to see the policy implications of a study in which family structure rivals unemployment as a statistical predictor of child poverty. Anyone who genuinely wishes to reduce the number of American children mired in poverty must begin to talk seriously about ways to foster enduring parental marriages.

(Maria A. Call and Paul R. Voss, “Spatio-Temporal Dimensions of Child Poverty in America, 1990-2010,” Environment and Planning A 48.1 [2016]: 172-91.)  

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