15% of Austin Children Are Living in Extreme Poverty

Austin has long-been a hotspot for growth in Texas, and has especially seen growth over the past 5 years. But with the continued growth has come some major consequences as well.

New data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that the number of Austin children living in extreme poverty rose by 11,000 from 2006 to 2012. Extreme poverty is defined as having an income that is less than 50 percent the of the federal poverty level. Overall, 28,000 Austin children, or 15 percent, are currently living in extreme poverty.

Austin is now roughly in line with extreme child poverty rates in other major Texas cities. Houston and Dallas both have 15 percent of children in extreme poverty, while San Antonio has 14 percent of kids in extreme poverty. Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio have also seen the percentage of children living in extreme poverty increase since 2006. But in terms of both absolute and relative growth, Austin has fared worse than the other major cities of Texas. It saw the highest percent increase (from 10 percent to 15 percent) as well as the largest number of children who fell into extreme poverty (11,000).  

Growing up in poverty has serious consequences for children, especially in education. Children who grow up in poverty consistently perform worse than high-income children. This is due to a variety of factors. Poor children are more likely to live in "extremely poor neighborhoods characterized by social disorganization and few resources for child development." The effects are worst for young children. Children who are poor in preschool or early elementary school have the lowest rates of school completion — worse than children who face poverty in later childhood or adolescence.

Children who grow up in poverty also face serious health consequences. An NYU study found that poverty is associated with much higher infant mortality rates. Poor children also are at higher risk for asthma and injuries from abuse/neglect. Their early cognitive development is often impaired due to poor nutrition, and that sticks with them for life.

Extreme child poverty is an important problem for Texas cities to address. The increases that Austin saw are part of a larger statewide trend. The health and education gaps mean kids who grow up poor are more likely to be poor as adults, and then have their own children grow up in poverty — what's known as the cycle of poverty. It's vital for Texas cities to start addressing this problem now, to ensure the current and future well-being for our most vulnerable citizens.

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