October 28, 2019
A fact sheet prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families by Dr. Jennifer Glass, Executive Director, Council on Contemporary Families and Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin.
Believe it or not, Halloween has its origins in folk customs designed to lower inequality between the rich and the poor during the Middle Ages in Europe. Poor people would visit the houses of wealthier families and receive pastries called soul cakes in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives. Known as “souling,” the practice was later taken up by children, who would go from door to door asking for gifts such as food, money and ale.
Yes, that’s right, Halloween started as a way for poor families to claim alms from wealthier families at a time when formal social welfare systems did not exist. But lest we think child poverty is no longer an important problem, it’s good to get a clear reminder that children remain the most economically vulnerable age group in America. So here are 10 scary facts about child poverty in the United States to consider this Halloween.
1. Even after accounting for receipt of public benefits and programs for low-income families, 13% of U.S. children—9.7 million—are living in families with incomes below the poverty line. Without these public programs, the U.S. child poverty rate would be even higher, 19.7%.
5. Our youngest children have the highest poverty rates (nearly 1 in 5 infants, toddlers and preschoolers between the ages of 0 and 5). Very young children are the age group most likely to live in poverty in the United States; those over 65 are least likely to live in poverty.
6. Effects of poverty on brain development start early and are most severe at the youngest ages, estimated at 8-9% reductions in frontal lobe size by age 4.
8. Poverty affects children’s health not only when they are young (increasing rates of asthma, obesity, injuries, functional impairment, and mental illness) but also later in their lives as adults with elevated rates of physical disability, depression, and premature death.
Several policy packages could achieve the goal of reducing child poverty by 50% in ten years. The costs of these packages are substantial ($90 to $100 billion a year) but small compared with the national costs of child poverty annually (between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion from reductions in adult productivity and increased health expenditures from growing up poor).
For more information, view the National Academies of Sciences full report on eliminating child poverty: https://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BCYF/Reducing_Child_Poverty/index.htm