May 24, 2001

May 24, 2001 | News Releases on Poverty and Inequality

Child Poverty Rates Reflect Familiy Structure, Not Race, Analysis Shows

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2001-Black children are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than are white children-but not because they are "born black in America," according to a new study from The Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis (CDA).

Examining data from the U.S. Department of Labor's National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, Heritage analysts determined that child poverty rates are driven primarily by single-parent households and dependency on welfare benefits. When these and other, less significant, factors are taken into account, the disparity between black and white child poverty rates disappears.

"Race alone does not directly increase or decrease the probability that a child will be poor," says Robert Rector, Heritage's senior research fellow in welfare and family issues and a co-author of the report.

The study notes that 68.8 percent of black American children were born out of wedlock in 1999, compared to 26.7 percent of white children. And black children were five times more likely to be dependent on Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the government's largest welfare program. Black children also live in poverty longer than whites-46.9 percent of their time since birth vs. 26.7 percent for whites.

Yet when black children and white children are grouped by levels of single parenthood and welfare dependence the poverty rates for both groups are nearly identical, Rector found.

"Any meaningful strategy to reduce the disparities between black and white child poverty must focus on increasing marriage and reducing welfare dependence among blacks," he says.

The analysis also found that nearly half (44.5 percent) of all children born to never-married mothers depend on AFDC, compared to a fifth (20.4 percent) of those born out of wedlock, whose mothers later married. Only a tenth (10.7 percent) of the children born to married couples who subsequently divorce end up relying on AFDC, as do a mere 2.5 percent of those whose parents' marriages remain intact.

Rector's co-authors are CDA Senior Policy Analyst Kirk Johnson and Patrick Fagan, Heritage's FitzGerald fellow in family and cultural issues. The study, "Understanding Differences in Black and White Child Poverty Rates," is available online at

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