Child poverty is a strong indicator of the family’s economic conditions. 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. Studies further suggest that early interventions are more effective than those that come later in life. 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 is an indicator of student poverty and its concentration in schools. 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.
Percent of children receiving free and reduced price lunch, greater Portland region, 2001-2011
Source: Oregon Department of Education; Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
In 2001, there were sixteen schools in the greater Portland region where 74 - 100 percent of students received free or reduced lunch. That number has been steadily increasing, however, and in 2011 there were 78 schools in the greater Portland region where more than two thirds of students were receiving free and reduced lunch. These numbers fail to capture children who are eligible for federal nutrition assistance but are not receiving free or reduced lunch. This includes children who are not enrolled in school, either because they are home schooled or younger than five years old and not enrolled in Head Start, and children whose families do not enroll them in the program.
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 2011, the greater Portland region had a lower child poverty rate than the states of Oregon and Washington.
Poverty negatively affects educational outcomes, health, and future earning potential. 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.
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.