Child Poverty

Indicator: 
Children receiving free and reduced price lunch; Percentage of children living in poverty, by race and ethnicity.
Outcome(s): 
Individual and family prosperity.
Significance: 

Child poverty is a strong indicator of a family’s economic conditions (Brooks-Gunn, J. and Duncan, G. 1997). Children who live in poverty are much more likely to experience marginalization from society than are their wealthier peers, whether due to unemployment, incarceration, low educational attainment, or early childbearing. Evidence shows that poverty has a strong impact on the later achievement of children, which affects their economic mobility (Corcoran, M. 1995). Studies further suggest that early interventions are more effective than those that come later in life (Anderson, L. et al 2003). Obstacles to early interventions are sometimes, but not always, met with a public response for assistance. Child poverty rates tell how well our current policies and institutions are preparing us for long-term health and prosperity.

Free and reduced lunch has been used as an indicator of student poverty and its concentration in schools (Rouse, H. and Fantuzzo, J. 2006). Eligibility of students to participate in free and reduced lunch is detrmined by federal income guidelines according to family size. Federal eligibility guidelines can be found on the USDA website. Children from families at or below 130 percent of poverty are eligible for free lunches and children from families between 131-185 percent of poverty are eligible for reduced price lunches. Children attending public schools, private schools, including parochial schools, and day care centers are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Data (click image for interactive version): 

Percent of children in poverty, Portland MSA, 2009-2012, three year estimates

Source: American Community Survey Table B17001

Percent of children in poverty, by race and ethnicity, Portland MSA, 2005-2012, one year estimates

Source: American Community Survey Table B17001A-I: Note: Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander estimates are not available for 2011 due to small sample sizes

Percent of children receiving free and reduced price lunch, greater Portland region, 2012-2013 school year

Source: Oregon Department of Education; Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Percent of children receiving free and reduced price lunch, greater Portland region, 2011-2012 school year

Source: Oregon Department of Education; Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Percent of children receiving free and reduced price lunch, greater Portland region, 2010-2011 school year

Source: Oregon Department of Education; Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Percent of children receiving free and reduced price lunch, greater Portland region, 2009-2010 school year

Source: Oregon Department of Education; Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Percent of children receiving free and reduced price lunch, greater Portland region, 2008-2009 school year

Source: Oregon Department of Education; Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Percent of children in poverty, above/below national average (22.6%), greater Portland region, 2012 one year estimates

Source: American Community Survey Table B17001

Percent of children in poverty, above/below national average (22.5%), greater Portland region, 2011 one year estimates

Source: American Community Survey Table B17001

Percent of children in poverty, above/below national average (21.6%), greater Portland region, 2010 one year estimates

Source: American Community Survey Table B17001

Percent of children in poverty, above/below national average (20.0%), greater Portland region, 2009 one year estimates

Source: American Community Survey Table B17001

Finding & Trends: 

During the recession, the number of students receiving free or reduced lunch increased sharply and has remained high. In 2007-2008, there were 188 schools with fewer than 25 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch and 51 schools with more than 74 percent. In the following two years—the heaviest recession years—the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch went up significantly. By 2010-2011, there were 81 schools with more than 74 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch. During the last two years, the numbers have remained fairly consistent.

Schools with a high percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch are concentrated in Outer East Portland, which includes Portland's largest school: David Douglas High School. Because this indicator focuses on percentages instead of student counts, it is important to study changes in specific large schools. In the 2010-2011 school year, 75 percent of David Douglas (2,441 students) were eligible for free or reduced lunch; only a year earlier, it was 65.3 percent (2,084 students). In 2012-2013, 72.2 percent (2,295 students) received free or reduced lunch.

For additional information about the Percentage of Children Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch in our region visit the Coalition for a Livable Future's Regional Equity Atlas.

The statistics for child poverty follow closely those of free or reduced lunch. In 2009, Outer East Portland (32 percent) was the only area with a higher than average percentage of children in poverty. In 2010, however, Gresham/East Multnomah County rose from 21.6 percent to 30.4 percent and North/Northeast Portland jumped from 14.2 percent to 31.9 percent. In 2011, Southeast Portland joined the group with higher than average child poverty, going from 20.8 percent to 30 percent. Moreover, Outer East Portland rose to 41.9 percent—nearly twice the national average. This reflects the change observed earlier at David Douglas High School, a large increase between the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years in students eligible for free and reduced lunch.

The burden of child poverty is not shared equally among racial and ethnic groups in the greater Portland region. Black and Hispanic children are over-represented while white and Asian children are less likely to fall below the poverty line. In 2012, the greater Portland region had a lower child poverty rate than the states of Oregon and Washington.

Driver(s): 
Poverty status of parents
Low educational attainment of parents
Unemployment of parents
Using the indicator to drive change: 

Poverty negatively affects educational outcomes, health, and future earning potential (Brooks-Gunn, J. and Duncan, G. 1997; Cocoran, M. 1995). Populations with higher rates of child poverty bear a disproportionate share of this burden. As a community-wide issue, poverty cannot be addressed by affected populations alone. Evaluating existing programs and identifying populations with increased need helps different sectors gain a better understanding of what is and is not working and develop policies to drive change.

Methodology: 

The Census Bureau uses a set of dollar value thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty. Furthermore, poverty thresholds for people living alone or with nonrelatives (unrelated individuals) vary by age (under 65 years or 65 years and older).

To determine a person's poverty status, compare the person's total family income in the last 12 months with the poverty threshold appropriate for that person's family size and composition (see example below). If the total income of that person's family is less than the threshold appropriate for that family, then the person is considered "below the poverty level," together with every member of his or her family. If a person is not living with anyone related by birth, marriage, or adoption, then the person's own income is compared with his or her poverty threshold. The total number of people below the poverty level is the sum of people in families and the number of unrelated individuals with incomes in the last 12 months below the poverty threshold.

The geography for child poverty is the greater Portland region which includes Clackamas County, OR;  Multnomah County, OR; Washington County, OR; Clark County, WA.  Please note that the geography used varies across different indicators.

Disclaimer: 
This indicator is based on information from credible sources. However, changes in collection methods and statistical procedures that have occurred over time may affect the data presented. Limitations that are acknowledged by the sources are noted below. Nevertheless, caution should be taken when interpreting all available data.
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