In 2010, 1.6 million American children, one child in 45, were homeless, according to a report from the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH). Most of these children also suffer from hunger and physical and emotional distress, as well as missed educational opportunities. The report, America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010, documents trends in child homelessness since 2006 and provides state-by-state data and rankings.
The authors cite poverty and a shortage of affordable housing as the two fundamental causes of child homelessness and attribute the recent spike in the number of homeless children to the Great Recession. Between 2007 and 2010, the United States saw an increase of 448,000 homeless children. Only five states saw a decline in the number of homeless children and in 25 states, child homelessness increased by 50% or more.
The NCFH report ranks all 50 states on four criteria related to child homelessness. The first criterion is the extent of child homelessness, measured as the percentage of homeless children in each state. New Jersey has the lowest percentage of children under 18 experiencing homelessness and Oregon has the highest.
The second criterion is the well-being of children, which measures the health problems of children living below 100% poverty, household food security status, and children’s academic aptitude, particularly on math and reading. Using this ranking, North Dakota scores best while Alabama is ranked last.
The third ranking measures risk factors for child homelessness, such as the extent of the foreclosure problem in the state, the percentage of families facing severe rent burden (paying more than 50% of their income on housing costs), percentage of female headed families, and the status of child poverty in the state. According to this report, children living in Vermont have the lowest risk of homelessness, while those living in Arizona are at the highest risk of becoming homeless.
In the fourth criterion, states are ranked based on their resources and policies to end homelessness. The authors look at the numbers of shelter, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing units, along with the presence of a housing trust fund and the existence of ten year plans to end homelessness. In this area, Maine is rated first and Mississippi is last. Finally, NCFH uses a composite of all four scores to rank each state’s overall performance.
The authors recommend affordable housing policy strategies, including funding of the National Housing Trust Fund, along with education, child care and workforce training policies as solutions to the problem of child homelessness.
NCFH’s report, America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010, is available at http://www.homelesschildrenamerica.org/media/NCFH_AmericaOutcast2010_web.pdf