Extreme poverty up sharply among Black children

The number of African-American children living in the harshest, most extreme conditions of poverty has climbed to its highest level in 23 years, according to a recent study by the Washington DC-based Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Still worse, if the Bush administration has its way, the number of Black and other poor children in these desperate straits will only increase.

The figures are alarming. In 2001 (the last year for which data is available), nearly one million African-American children lived in a family with an annual income less than half of the federal poverty level (disposable income below $7,064 for a family of three). These children, living in what is called “extreme poverty,” are among the most vulnerable and at-risk members of U.S. society.

“It is shameful that one million Black children are left behind in extreme poverty,” said CDF President Miriam Wright Edelman in a related press statement. “It is hard to be poor. It is even harder to be an extremely poor Black child in America when our President…is proposing massive new tax breaks for the richest Americans.”

Bush administration budget proposals would dismantle Head Start, undermine Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and slash or freeze other services designed to help the nation’s poorest children.

The CDF report notes that “fewer and fewer otherwise-extremely-poor children of all races receive cash public assistance,” and a growing number have no assistance at all, despite their extreme poverty.

Edelman has been an outspoken critic of Bush administration policy. A few days before the report, she said that “the Bush administration and congressional leadership are waging a radical budget battle” against U.S. children. Noting the administration’s preoccupation with waging war, Edelman said that more attention needs to be given to protecting “our children at home … from hunger, poverty, and lack of education.” She called upon Congress to reject the Bush budget and tax policies “for the sake of our nation and children.”

In a full-page advertisement in this week’s New York Times, the CDF spotlights poor children who are “Left behind by the Bush tax cut for America’s richest,” adding that “Bush’s tax cuts leave no millionaire behind … just millions of children.”

The full text of the CDF report can be found at www.childrensdefense.org. The author can be reached at malmberg@pww.org