Recession Drove Child Poverty Up in 96 of 100 Top School Systems

The child poverty rate rose during the economic recession in 1 of every 5 counties across the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The increase in poverty between 2007 and 2010 was especially pronounced in the nation’s largest school systems, where 96 of the top 100 districts reported growth in the number of poor children, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“When we see a dramatic rise in child poverty from the recession, when unemployment is rampant, I don’t think it should surprise anyone that we would see more and more children showing up for school homeless and qualifying for free lunches,” said Patti Hassler, vice president for communication and outreach for the Children’s Defense Fund, a Washington-based advocacy group. “But it should be a call to action.”

The Census Bureau tracks school district poverty rates for the U.S. Department of Education, which uses the data to direct federal funding to poor schools. The figures also are used to determine the places where poor children’s test scores must be reported separately under the No Child Left Behind Act, which can affect school funding and personnel.

The government sets the poverty level at $22,113 for a four-person household that includes two people under 18.

Free Lunch

New York City -- the nation’s largest school district, with an estimated 1.25 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 -- reported a rise in poverty to 29 percent in 2010, up from 26.6 percent in 2007.

Almost three-quarters of New York schoolchildren qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, said Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Education.

Lee County, Florida, reported the greatest increase in poor students during the recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The proportion of poor children in the district, whose population includes about 90,000 children, almost doubled to 25.3 percent during the slump, which was the worst in seven decades.

Donna Brock, a secretary for the coordinator for student welfare and attendance in Lee County’s schools, said that as of Oct. 31, 741 students had been identified as homeless. The school district keeps a running tally every month, and officials expect the total of homeless students to reach 800 as of Nov. 30. Last year, from August 2010 to June 2011, the school district had 1,282 homeless students.

Detroit At Bottom

The Detroit City School District, which was the poorest in the nation in 2007, remained at the bottom in 2010. The bureau reported 47.2 percent of the 139,300 children in the nation’s ninth-largest district are poor, a 20 percent increase from 2007.

School districts in Cherry Creek, Colorado; El Paso, Texas; Mobile, Alabama; and Seattle reported decreases in poverty. The Cherry Creek district in suburban Denver had 11 percent fewer poor students in 2010, with a child poverty rate of 8.6 percent.

Almost one-quarter of the 13,619 districts in the nation have 20,000 or more students. Those districts contain 81.6 percent of poor children, the Census Bureau said.

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