American children under 6 make up poorest age group But, overall, poverty among nation's young has decreased since 1993


While the number of American children living in poverty has declined from the peak of 1993, children younger than 6 remain the poorest age group in the nation, according to a study by the National Center for Children in Poverty.

The study, released last week, found that 5.5 million children, nearly 1 in 4, were living in poverty in 1996, compared with 6.4 million three years earlier. And the percentage of poor children with working parents has increased substantially in that period. In fact, 63 percent of those children were in families with at least one working parent, compared with 54 percent in 1993. Most of the increase occurred in 1995.

Since 1993, more than 6 million Americans, mostly children, have left the welfare rolls. That trend has accelerated since the federal welfare law of 1996, which required that recipients find jobs.

Although it is too early to analyze the law's effects on child poverty, the study highlights how many jobs pay too little to lift a family out of poverty. Even in families where the single mothers worked full time, the report found, 17 percent of the children under 6 still lived in poverty.

"Many working families with young children are still struggling to escape poverty," said the center's director, Dr. Lawrence Aber. "The United States continues to have the highest rate of young-child poverty of any Western industrialized nation. Decades of experience teach us that we cannot rely on economic growth alone to overcome young-child poverty."

The study is based on the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent Current Population Survey. In 1996, the official poverty line was $16,036 a year for a family of four and $12,516 for a family of three.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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