According to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Understanding the Geography of Growth in Rural Child Poverty, more than one in four rural children are living in poverty, an increase from one in five in 1999. Counties with a manufacturing-based economy saw the largest increases in child poverty. Counties with a combination of low educational attainment and a high percentage of children in single parent families were much more likely to experience severe employment losses, also contributing to increased child poverty.
The 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) indicates that 2.6 million rural children under the age of 18 live in poverty. The rural child poverty rate increased from 19% in 1999 to 26% in 2013, and is significantly higher than the metropolitan rate of 21%. One in five rural counties in the U.S. has a child poverty rate higher than 33%, but another one in five has a rate lower than 16%.
The average child poverty rate in manufacturing-based counties increased from 18.3% to 26.7% between 1999 and 2013. Counties with a farm-based or mining-based economy had more favorable economic conditions and saw much smaller increases in child poverty. Still, the average child poverty rate in farm-based counties increased from 21.0% to 22.3%, and in mining-based counties increased from 21.8% to 23.0%.
An increase in the percentage of children in single-parent families contributed to the rise in rural child poverty rates. The overall percentage of rural children with a single parent increased from 26% to 34% during the study period and the number of rural counties with over 37% of their children living in single parent families increased from 192 to 492. This shift in family structure raised the average child poverty rate in rural counties by four percentage points. Child poverty rates increased by less than one percentage point in counties where the percentage of children living in single parent families held constant.
Counties with low high school attainment and a high percentage of children in single-parent families were more vulnerable to economic decline and greater poverty. Counties with more than 37% of their children in single parent families and more than 17% of young adults without a high school diploma have an average child poverty rate of 38.1%.
Counties in the top quarter of counties with the highest proportion of young adults without a high school diploma and of children in single parent families in 2000 were more likely to experience heavy employment losses between 1999 and 2013. Forty-seven percent of these counties had employment declines of at least 11%, contributing to the child poverty rate. Only 16% of counties in the lowest quarter of these two factors experienced such severe employment losses.
The authors pose questions for future research. Do limited employment opportunities influence family formation and the rise in single parent families? What is the role of migration in county-level child poverty? The authors state that counties with large employment declines did not necessarily experience high rates of population loss, suggesting that rural families did not move in search of jobs.
The report draws data from the five-year 2009-2013 U.S. Census American Community Survey (ACS), comparing these data to figures from the 2000 Census.
Understanding the Geography of Growth in Rural Child Poverty is available at http://1.usa.gov/1K5pZ0W.