There’s more work to do for kids in poverty, Census data shows

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau released new poverty data for 2014. The raw data is available on the Census Bureau website, and our friends at the Coalition for Human Needs have assembled an excellent collection of resources and analyses. Here at Every Child Matters, we broke it down into the three things you need to know about kids in poverty in 2014.

1. The poverty rate didn’t increase… but inequality did.

The census data showed that the percentage of children living in poverty in 2014 was about the same as 2013. Although this doesn’t sound like bad news, it’s important to keep in mind that this was a period of strong economic growth and decreasing unemployment, and incomes rose significantly for the wealthiest 10% of Americans. The upward trend that bolstered businesses and their executives wasn’t a reality for low-income families.

2. Good news: the number of uninsured children continues to fall.

Though the poverty rate stayed constant, access to health insurance among children increased in 2014. In fact, the percentage of children without insurance has fallen from 9.0% in 2009 to 6.2% in 2014, mostly among families living below the poverty line. Over the same period, the percentage of children with coverage through a government insurance program—including the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid—increased from 35.7% to 42.6%.

3. The bottom line: social assistance programs work to lift families and kids out of poverty.

The Census Bureau report includes two different measures of poverty: the Current Population Survey (CPS), which uses a family or individual’s pre-tax income, and the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which takes into account additional income and resources from Social Security, SNAP, housing subsidies, and refundable tax credits (read more about how the SPM is calculated here). Looking at the numbers side by side, we can see the impact that those programs have. The 2014 data shows more than three million U.S. children were lifted out of poverty thanks to those government assistance programs. In other words, without the safety net, 20% more children would be feeling the effects of poverty. However, with the budget debate underway in Congress, those critical assistance programs are at risk of being cut.

The census data shows that strong safety net programs like Social Security, SNAP, housing subsidies, and refundable tax credits are effective at reducing child poverty. Recent expansions of the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits have lifted millions of working families out of poverty. Congress must make them permanent. We shouldn’t be considering cuts; we should be investing in these effective poverty solutions and investing in our kids.