The number of California children living in poverty increased by more than 430,000 over the decade ending in 2000, according to a survey released Thursday on the well-being of the nation's children.
Nearly 1.8 million of the state's children, or about 20%, live below the poverty level, compared with the 1990 total of about 1.4 million, or 18%, the study said.
Though California actually improved in eight of the 10 areas examined in the study, the state's proportion of children at risk remained above the national average in five of those areas. Nationwide, the booming economy helped to improve overall conditions for children in the 1990s, but the child poverty rate remained virtually unchanged and the proportion of children in single-parent families grew dramatically, according to the study by Kids Count, a project that tracks the well-being of the nation's children.
"The 1990s produced brighter futures for many of the nation's 72 million children," said William O'Hare, who coordinated the project for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based private charitable organization. "But sustaining those advances and extending them to the 12 million kids still in poverty will be an enormous challenge, given the recent economic downturn."
An additional cause for concern, he said, is that states could be under pressure to cut programs that improved conditions because of budget shortfalls.
Welfare Reform, Immigration Factors
The findings were also affected by other social and demographic shifts in the 1990s, including the welfare reform movement and an increase in immigration that has produced a population in which one-fifth of all children are immigrants or children of foreign-born parents.
In addition, the number of children in the United States grew by more than 8 million, the largest increase since the 1950s.
The state-by-state analysis allowed the group's researchers to examine changes more closely than ever before, said Mark Mather, a policy analyst with the Population Reference Bureau and one of the report's authors. Breaking the figures down by state helped detail the sometimes vast differences between states. Child poverty increased by 30% in Alaska, for example, but decreased by 33% in Colorado and South Dakota.
Given the shift in power from the federal government to the states in many policy areas affecting children, these differences were relevant, he added.
The data came from the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey and provided a preview of the American Community Survey, an annual census survey of 700,000 households, Mather said. The American Community Survey could give reliable estimates of social and economic data every year.
Thursday's study looked at 10 indicators experts believe have adverse effects on children's lives. It also offered a "family risk index" based on families that live below the poverty level, in a single-parent household, in a home where neither parent is fully employed or in a home where the head of the household is a high school dropout.
California Risk Factors Above Average
On a scale where the No. 1 ranking indicates the lowest risk factor, California ranked 37th, with 14% of children living in such families.
California had more children living in poverty, living with low-income working families, living with a parent without a high school diploma or living with no full-time employed parent than the national average, the study found.
While California slightly improved its percentage of children living with a parent without a high school diploma, it had the highest rate among the states.
O'Hare said he hopes states that didn't improve in certain areas will take a look at states that did and replicate their programs. The purpose of the study, he said, is to increase public awareness and public understanding of problems facing children.
"Decisions made on firm statistical information are better than those made on anecdotal information, and they lead to a better outcome for children," he said.
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times