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Poverty and Economic Polarization among America's Minority and Immigrant Children.

May 2005

Daniel T. Lichter, Zhenchao Qian, Martha L. Crowley. Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University.

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This paper examines recent changes in child poverty and income inequality in the 1990s among America's racial and immigrant minorities. The analyses are based on data from the 1990 and 2000 Public Use Microdata Samples of the U.S. decennial censuses. First, we document changes in child poverty rates between 1990 and 2000 for several different race and nativity groups. Our results indicate that increasing maternal employment during the 1990s rather than changing family structure accounted for a substantial share of the recent decline in child poverty rates. Changes in family structure played a minor role in reducing child poverty in the 1990s but accounted for a large part of observed poverty differences among children of different minority groups. Second, we evaluate children's changing position in the family income distribution, i.e., whether there is a growing gap between rich and poor children in America and whether the income gap has been reinforced by growing racial diversity and immigration over the past decade. Our results show that income of the poorest children increased modestly in the 1990s (albeit not enough to shift them to the middle-class), and that income inequality among children unexpectedly slowed or even declined for some groups during the 1990s. These results indicate that analyses of poverty alone may misrepresent the changing circumstances of America's disadvantaged children.

Child Well-being and Child Development, Immigration, Race and Ethnicity