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Report: One out of Five Children in Rural America is Poor
Loyola Sociologist Kenneth M. Johnson Co-Authors Census Study

CHICAGO, April 18, 2004 One out of every five children in the United States lives in rural America, and one out of every five children in rural America is poor. This 20 percent child poverty rate for rural America in 2002 was significantly higher than the 16 percent rate for urban areas. The stark reality is that 48 of the nation’s 50 counties with the highest child poverty rates are located in rural America.

These are among the key findings of a new report, Child Poverty in Rural America, written by Dr. William O’Hare of The Annie E. Casey Foundation and Dr. Kenneth Johnson of Loyola University-Chicago for the Population Reference Bureau. This report is part of the series “PRB Reports on America.”

Poor children in rural America face significant challenges just as their urban counterparts do, but many of the challenges are exacerbated by the isolation and lack of support services in rural areas. The plight of poor families in rural areas is also complicated by the fact that rural poverty looks very different in different parts of the country.

The many faces of rural poverty include impoverished rural hamlets in the Appalachian Mountains, sharecroppers’ shacks in the Mississippi Delta, desolate Indian reservations on the Great Plains, and emerging colonias along the Rio Grande. Rural poverty also has strong racial lenses. It looks white if you live in Appalachia, black if you live in the Mississippi Delta, Hispanic if you live in the Rio Grande Valley, and American Indian if you live in the Dakotas. Such enormous diversity is one reason why policymakers, the media, and the public have a difficult time developing a clear vision of rural poverty. Without a true picture of modern-day rural life, including poverty, many policy decisions are based on outdated images.

Since poor, rural children are more likely to live in a family where parent(s) work, they are likely to benefit disproportionately from policies that support low-income working families. However, rural kids are concentrated in states that are poorer and offer less generous public supports for poor families, a problem that is exacerbated by new policies that give states more responsibility and control over programs intended to help needy children and families. Poor rural families are less likely to receive cash public assistance, and the amount they receive is considerably lower than that received by poor urban families.

The economic hardships faced by rural families contributed to the fact that, in nearly half of all rural counties, the number of children decreased between 1990 and 2000. Even in rural counties that experienced overall population growth, nearly a third saw children leave. That phenomenon is not unusual, as rural America has invested heavily in the care, upbringing and education of its children for decades, only to see many depart as young adults.

-The rural child poverty rate (20 percent) is significantly higher than the rate for urban children (16 percent).
-The gap between child poverty levels in rural and urban areas has widened since the mid-1990s.
-Child poverty levels are higher in rural areas for every racial and ethnic group.
-More than a quarter (27 percent) of rural children live in low-income working families compared to just 21 percent of urban children.
-There are only one-fourth as many physicians per 100,000 residents in the most rural counties as there are in large metropolitan counties
Copies of the full report, Child Poverty in Rural America, are available on the Population Reference Bureau’s Rural Families Data Center website (www.rfdcenter.org) and on PRB’s website (www.prb.org). For a print copy (free to writers and members of the press), please contact Ellen Carnevale, Director of Communications, Population Reference Bureau, 1875 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 520, Washington, DC 20009; 202.939.5407;ecarnevale@prb.org.

The Population Reference Bureau is the leader in providing timely and objective information on U.S. and international population trends and their implications. PRB celebrates its 75th Anniversary in 2004.
About Loyola University Chicago

Committed to preparing people to lead extraordinary lives, Loyola University Chicago was founded in 1870 and is among the largest of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. Loyola has a total enrollment of more than 15,000 students, which includes 10,000 undergraduates hailing from all 50 states and 82 foreign countries. The University has four campuses: three in the greater Chicago area and one in Rome, Italy. Loyola also serves as the U.S. host university to the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies in Beijing, China. Loyola’s nine schools and colleges include arts and sciences, business administration, education, graduate studies, law, medicine, nursing, professional studies, and social work. Loyola offers 69 undergraduate majors, 77 master’s degrees, 36 doctoral degrees, and three professional degree programs. Recognizing Loyola’s excellence in education, U.S. News and World Report has ranked Loyola consistently among the “top national universities” in its annual publications. For more information, please visit our web site at www.luc.edu.

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