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More than 1 in 5 California children live in poverty, study finds

January 7, 2013 |  4:21 pm

As California diversifies, it will face serious economic struggles if it fails to pay attention to widespread childhood poverty, according to a report released Monday by the Center for the Next Generation. The center found that more than 1 in 5 children in the state are living in poverty.

The study, "Prosperity Threatened: Perspectives on Childhood Poverty in California," focuses on new U.S. Census Bureau figures, finding that childhood poverty is endemic among the state’s fastest-growing population -- Latinos -- with nearly 1 in 3 Latino children living at or below the poverty line.

Researchers contrasted the numbers with data on seniors, which showed fewer than 1 in 10 living in poverty.

“We can’t honestly separate our state’s economic future from current poverty rates among our kids,” said Ann O’Leary, vice president and director of the center, who co-wrote the report. “Our ability to thrive as the world’s ninth-largest economy depends on having an educated, healthy and stable next generation of workers.

"We’re headed in the opposite direction,” she added.

The study, which was funded by the center, details a trend of increased childhood poverty in California that accelerated during the recession. And while childhood poverty fell in five California counties between 2006 and 2011, 16 counties saw a reduction in senior poverty during the same period.

Los Angeles County, with more than 9.6 million people, is home to nearly 2.4 million children -- more than 17% of whom live in poverty, according to the study.

Of 51 counties studied, L.A. County ranked 22nd in terms of poverty rate.

In Orange County, slightly more than 16% of the children live at or below the poverty line, according to the study.

“We’ve taken steps to provide our seniors with some level of assurance that they’ll be cared for in their later years,” said O’Leary, adding that the study, funded by the center's general budget, began last fall. “California’s grandparents should ask why their grandkids don’t get the same treatment.” 

The report noted a correlation between education levels and childhood poverty rates; counties with the highest number of parents with college degrees also have the lowest levels of childhood poverty. The opposite also is true, the study found.

O'Leary and her coauthors suggest that state leaders make tackling childhood poverty a central goal of any economic recovery plan.

The center's mission is to influence the national debate over sustainable energy and improving opportunities for children and families.

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-- Anh Do

Twitter: @newsterrier

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