Moral Low Ground


U.S. Census Data: 37% of Young Families are Poor– Highest Level Ever Recorded

September 21, 2011 by Brett Wilkins in Rich & Poor with 0 Comments

(Photo: Vaughan Nelson)

U.S. census data analyzed by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University reveals that 37% of young American families were living in poverty last year.

According to the New York Times, this is the highest poverty level on record for young families– defined as under age 30, exceeding the 2000 rate of 25% and the previous record of 36%, which occurred in 1993.

Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies, told the Times that the soaring poverty rate among young families is a result of a shifting of resources from the young to the elderly, a dangerous development that is threatening the welfare of the next generation of Americans at a time when labor market competition is extremely fierce and growing even tougher.

“Young families with children are now six times as likely to be poor as elderly families,” he told the Times.

Another factor influencing the rise in poverty among young families is the general economic climate of our times. College education is more important than ever as low-skilled jobs in manufacturing and other industries have largely vanished. Gone are the days when it was taken for granted that someone with a high school education could land a strong middle class job. The number of male high school graduates in their 20s who were employed full time plunged by 22% in the three-year period from 2007-2010.

The prospects for high school dropouts are even more bleak. Less than a third of them in their 20s had full time jobs last year.

Yet another factor contributing to the rising poverty rate among young families is the welfare reform enacted under the Clinton administration in the late 1990s, which made government assistance harder to obtain for those who need it most. While lauded as a success for the number of mothers who were forced to find work (which wasn’t so hard to do during the boom days of the late 90s), welfare reform has largely backfired because young mothers, many of them single parents, often face employment discrimination in today’s job market.

“Whenever I go for a job interview, that comes up– they’re not going to hire a mom,” 27-year-old Margaret Allstrom, a divorced mother of two in Atlanta who works three part-time jobs to support her children told the New York Times. “Technically it’s not legal. But they ask questions like, ‘What’s important in your life?’ You’re going to mention your kids, and then they know.”

The alarming rise in poverty among young families is especially troubling when one considers that children now account for 35% of all poor people in the U.S., despite being only 24% of the population. This does not bode well for America’s future. Nor does the fact that 36% of black children and 31% of hispanic children are poor. These children are less likely to do well in school, perpetuating the cycle of poverty among disadvantaged populations in our society.

Of course, with these kinds of numbers increasingly making headlines, it may not be long before the majority of Americans are counted among a “disadvantaged population.”

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