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Press Release · November 5, 2002

Many Of California’s Young Children Live In Poverty

High Numbers of Immigrant Parents, Low Parental Education Key Factors

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 5, 2002 – One-fifth of California’s youngest children are growing up poor, according to a study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Despite a decline in recent years, the state’s poverty rate for children under the age of five remains higher than it was two decades ago and higher than child poverty levels in the rest of the United States.

In 2000, 20 percent of California’s young children were living in poverty, compared to 18 percent elsewhere in the nation. The median income for California families with young children was $39,800 in 2000 – about $4,100 less than in the rest of the country. The state fares no better in an historical comparison with itself: There are more poor children in California today than there were in 1979, when the poverty rate for young children was 18 percent. Today’s rate, however, is lower than it was during the recession of the early 1990s, when young child poverty reached a high of 32 percent.

In the study, a clear link emerges between child poverty and whether or not parents are foreign- born. This dynamic helps to explain why California has comparatively more impoverished children. “We found that Hispanic children in foreign-born families have the highest poverty levels (36%),” says PPIC Research Fellow Deborah Reed, who co-authored the study with PPIC Research Associate Amanda Bailey. “California has far more first-generation immigrant families than the rest of the country; and because these families are often poorer, we find greater numbers of needy children.”

In fact, nearly half (48%) of all California’s young children have a foreign-born parent and, of these, most are Hispanic (74%) or Asian (11%). Notably, Hispanic children of U.S.-born parents also have relatively high poverty levels (26%), as do African American children (25%). White (12%) and Asian (9%) children have the lowest levels, although other research shows that foreign-born Asians, particularly Southeast Asians, have high poverty rates.

The study, California’s Young Children: Demographic, Social, and Economic Conditions, also finds that a substantial number of parents with young children in California did not complete high school – 24 percent, compared to 13 percent in the rest of the nation. Among children in foreign-born Hispanic families, 53 percent have parents who did not finish high school. Reed notes that the public policy challenges of such low education levels are wide-ranging. “Hispanic children from foreign-born families are some of the neediest in the state, yet only 12 percent receive public assistance. We need to find out why our social service programs are not reaching these families and try to make adjustments.”

Other Key Findings

  • Over 40 percent of California’s young children are living in low-income families (the measure for low-income is 75 percent of the state’s median income).
  • Many young children in California are highly mobile, with one in three moving at least once a year. Over 40 percent of young African American children move every year.
  • While most married and single mothers with young children work outside the home, that number is lower in California than in the rest of the nation: 60 percent of single and 53 percent of married California mothers work outside the home, versus 71 and 63 percent, respectively, in the rest of the country.
  • One in five young children in California has no health insurance. One-third of Hispanic children in foreign-born families are uninsured, and 42 percent of African American children have incomplete vaccinations at age two.
  • Regionally, the San Francisco Bay area stands out as having the lowest child poverty rate in the state (9%), while the San Joaquin Valley has the highest (37%).

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, non-partisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.