New Orleans Kids, Working Parents, and Poverty

Vicki Mack

Published: Feb 26, 2015

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What is the overall condition of New Orleans children? We know that by looking at the data, 39 percent of New Orleans children live in poverty  a full 17 percentage points higher than the US average. We also know that the wages of adult workers in a child’s family determine their poverty status. And, while most New Orleans parents are in the workforce, low-wage jobs are all too prevalent. Scientific research shows us that child poverty can lead to increased trauma in young people’s brains and now scholars assert that poverty may be the single greatest threat to children’s healthy brain development. Without healthy brain development, our kids risk lifelong difficulties in learning, memory, and self-regulation. Innovation is needed now to break the cycle of poverty that grips poor families.

 

Roughly 78,000 children under 18 years of age live in New Orleans as of 2013. This is a sizable drop from 2000 when over 129,000 children lived in New Orleans.i While the number of children in New Orleans is significantly smaller than pre-Katrina, the poverty rate unfortunately is not. The child poverty rate in New Orleans dropped in 2007 but has since increased to the same level it was pre-Katrina. Today, 39 percent of New Orleans children live in poverty.

Child poverty rates

childpovertyrates---kidswppoverty_Child-Poverty

Source: THE DATA CENTER analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from Census 2000 SF3, the 2007 American Community Survey, and the 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

n.s. = On the 1999 bar, n.s. indicates change between 1999 and 2007 is not significant; on the 2007 bar, n.s. indicates change between 2007 and 2013 is not significant; and on the 2013 bar, n.s. indicates change between 1999 and 2013 is not significant.

 

The child poverty rate in New Orleans is fully 17 percentage points higher than the national average. Moreover, it is higher than in many comparable U.S. cities. Among the 39 cities with populations between 275,000 and 600,000, New Orleans has the 9th highest child poverty rate. This is particularly concerning given that many of the cities with higher child poverty rates, such as Cleveland, are not experiencing an economic renaissance as in New Orleans.ii Moreover, child poverty in New Orleans is significantly higher than in many cities that New Orleans might aspire to be compared with, such as Tampa and Raleigh.

Child poverty rates in select mid-sized cities, 2013

comparison-cities

Source: THE DATA CENTER analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates

 

LEARN MORE

For a complete list of the 39 cities with populations between 275,000 and 600,000 and their child poverty rates, see the downloadable spreadsheet accompanying this brief.

 Poverty’s relationship to family structure

By definition, poverty for children is a function of their family’s household income. In other words, the wages of adult family members determine whether children live in poverty.

 

poverty-threshold-2013---full-with-text

 

Abundant research shows that family structures themselves are strongly tied to economic standing.iii For example, higher income, well-educated couples are more likely to marry, and to stay married, than low-income couples.iv Thus, in cities with low child poverty rates, children are more likely to be living in married-couple families.

 

Child poverty rates and married-couple families, 2013, in cities with populations between 275,000 and 600,000

children.marriedparents.cities

 

Source: THE DATA CENTER analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates

Note: The percentage of children living with married parents is from the universe of children living with at least one parent. The universe does not include children who live in households without a parent present, for example, children living with grandparents or other relatives.

 

LEARN MORE

To explore data about child poverty and married-couple and single-parent families with children in all 39 cities, see the interactive that accompanies this brief.

This data is not intended to suggest that single-parent families cause child poverty or that marriage is a solution to poverty. To the contrary, Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson explains that a job is often one of the many prerequisites to a stable marriage. v,vi Indeed, as the real earnings of many Americans have declined over the past 50 years, men who have born the brunt of these changes have been decreasingly likely to marry.vii

Children living with parents by family type

childpovertyrates---kidswppoverty_Family-Below-Poverty

Source: THE DATA CENTER analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from Census 2000 SF3 and the 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates
n.s. = change between 2000 and 2013 is not significant
Note: These percents do not include children living in households without a parent present, for example, children living with grandparents or other relatives. Percents may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

 

In New Orleans, the share of children in single-mother families has remained stubbornly high at roughly 48 percent since 2000. While the economic prospects for many mothers and children are not good in New Orleans, marriage is not likely to improve them, given that less than half of all working age, African American men have employment.viii Singer Jesse James’ 1988 song entitled I Can Do Bad By Myself, includes the lyrics, “I can do bad by myself. I don’t need no help to starve to death.” These lyrics may sum up the desirability of marriage for many New Orleans families in poverty.

Although overall poverty and child poverty have remained unchanged in New Orleans since 1999, the economic status of married-couple families has improved, while the economic status of single-mother families has worsened. The poverty rate for single-mother households in New Orleans increased from 52 percent in 1999, to 58 percent in 2013, while the poverty rate for married-couples with children fell from 11 percent to 8 percent.

All told, the poverty rate for single-mother families in New Orleans—at 58 percent—is much higher than the national average of 41 percent.

 

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According to Census 2013 data, 154 children in New Orleans live in group quarters, down from 623 children in 2000. Regardless of the type of group quarter that children may live in, research shows that children living in group quarters are less likely to make normal progress through school than children living in households.ix

Poverty status for families with children by type

childpovertyrates---kidswppoverty_Poverty-status-families-w-children-by-type

Source: THE DATA CENTER analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from Census 2000 SF3 and the 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates
n.s. = change between 1999 and 2013 is not significant

 

Poverty’s relationship to healthy brain development

High poverty levels among New Orleans children are concerning for the long-term economic prospects of the city because of poverty’s effect on child brain development. Scientific research shows that child poverty can lead to chronic, toxic stress that disrupts the architecture of the developing brain. Children in poverty are much more likely to experience exposure to violence, chronic neglect, and the accumulated burdens of economic hardship. This kind of chronic stress causes prolonged activation of the stress response system, which in turn can disrupt the development of brain architecture, leading to lifelong difficulties in learning, memory, and self-regulation.x In short, scholars argue that poverty may be the single greatest threat to children’s healthy brain development.xi

 

ACEkidbrain_t640

Photo source: Centers for Disease Control. Retrieved February 10,2015 from http://wellcommons.com/users/jestevens/ photos/2011/jul/22/217506/

 

“In short, scholars argue that poverty may be the single greatest threat to children’s healthy brain development.”

Working families with children

Despite high poverty rates, single mothers in New Orleans are more likely to be employed than not. All told, 67 percent of New Orleans’ single mothers are working. To be sure, all parents of children under 18 in New Orleans are more likely to be working than not. Of all families with children in New Orleans, 82 percent have at least one working parent. And both parents are working in 66 percent of all married-couple families with children.

Employment status of parents with children by family type, 2013

childpovertyrates---kidswppoverty_employment-status---families-w-children

Source: THE DATA CENTER analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from Census 2000 SF3 and the 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates

 

Given that 82 percent of New Orleans families with children have at least one working parent, how could it be that 39 percent of all New Orleans children live in poverty? The answer may lie partially in the large number of low-wage jobs offered in the New Orleans area. A larger share—12 percent—of full-time, year-round workers in the New Orleans metro earn less than $17,500 per year, as compared to only 8 percent nationally. And female workers who live in the city of New Orleans itself are more likely than male workers to earn low wages. According to 2013 Census data, more than 64,000 working women in New Orleans earned less than $17,500 in the prior 12 months through either full-time or part-time work.

 

Number of full- or part-time workers by income range, New Orleans, 2013

childpovertyrates---kidswppoverty-05

 

Source: THE DATA CENTER analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from Census 2000 SF3 and the 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates

 

Geographies of poverty

In New Orleans, poverty is not evenly spread across the city, but is concentrated in certain neighborhoods. Because family composition is highly correlated with poverty, the geography of poverty and single-parent families follow a consistent spatial pattern as depicted in the maps below.xii

Poverty Rate by Census Block Group, New Orleans, 2007-2011

Poverty-rate

Source: THE DATA CENTER analysis of data from 2007-2011 American Community Survey

 

Percent of Single-Parent Households by Census Block Group New Orleans, 2010

Single-Parents

Source: THE DATA CENTER analysis of data from 2010 Census

 

LEARN MORE

For maps of low-wage workers, households with no vehicle, commuting by public transit, cost-burdened renters, adults with low educational attainment, and grandparents as caregivers, see our Geographies of Poverty collection at http://www.datacenterresearch.org/maps/poverty/

Conclusion

Scholars at Harvard University’s National Scientific Council on the Developing Child assert, “The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the healthy development of the next generation. But, poverty can derail healthy development by causing excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body (especially the brain), with damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health across the lifespan.”xiii

More than one out of every three children in New Orleans lives in poverty – and this despite the fact that the vast majority of New Orleans children have at least one parent working. If we want to further our progress in building a healthy, prosperous, and resilient post-Katrina New Orleans, leaders will need to focus not only on job creation, but on quality job creation. Jobs must offer reasonable wages, some level of job security, and the prospect of work progression.xiv In addition, the poor need to be connected to those quality jobs.

COST OF LIVING AND REASONABLE WAGES

Given the current cost of living in New Orleans, two sources estimate that a single worker needs a wage of roughly $22 per hour to provide for one child.xix Even a single worker with no children needs $14.85 per hour to live in New Orleans.xx

Raising a mother out of poverty can have a powerful rippling effect on society, particularly in New Orleans where almost 50 percent of the children living with parents live with a single mom. Women also contribute to the incomes of 74 percent of the married-couple families with children in New Orleans. Therefore, increasing mothers’ access to education, job training, and quality child care are some of the ways to ensure that a large number of children successfully transition to adulthood.xv

Innovation is needed to break the cycle of poverty that grips poor families. Innovative approaches will recognize that the parents’ situations matter and that to improve outcomes for poor children, we must address the needs of them and their parents. One innovative program in Atlanta sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation uses a two-generation approach to give children access to a high-quality early childhood education, while also helping parents to get better jobs and build stronger families.xvi This two-generation approach and others like it across the country, are still in their infancy.xvii However, theoretical justification for these programs is strong, their early results are promising, and the time is ripe for innovation, experimentation, and further study.xvii

Data Sources/Methodology

All data is from the Census 2000 Summary File 3 (SF3) and American Community Survey 2007, and 2013 (single-year files). Statistical tests of significance were computed at the 95% confidence level for all data from the American Community Survey and Census 2000 SF3.

An “n.s.” indicates that differences between two time periods are not significant, and therefore are the result of sampling variability rather than real change in characteristics of the population.

The significance tests require both estimates and their standard errors.

Standard errors for the ACS estimates were calculated using formulas in Appendix 3 of “What General Data Users Need to Know” available at: http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Downloads/handbooks/ACSGeneralHandbook.pdf.

Standard errors for Census 2000 SF3 data were calculated using formulas from Chapter 8 of the Technical Documentation available at: http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2000/doc/sf3.pdf.

Standard errors for Census 2000 and Census 2010 SF1 data are zero.

The test for significance was calculated using formulas in Appendix 4 of “What General Data Users Need to Know.”

Technical Notes

Data on children living with parents by family type, and employment status of parents with children by family type represent only families with a child under 18 years of age who is a son or daughter by birth, stepchild or an adopted child of the householder. Data on poverty status for families with children by type represent families with any child under 18 years of age who is related to the house-holder by birth, marriage, or adoption. The Census’ tabulation of “related” children was selected for the calculation of poverty status to ensure comparability between 2000 and 2013 data.

Footnotes can be found in the pdf report, which is available for download on the top right of the page.

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