The number of black children living in “extreme” poverty has risen sharply in the last few years, according to a study of census figures by the Children’s Defense Fund.

The number of extremely poor black children stood at 932,000 in 2001, according to the New York Times, which first reported on the study. That number is up 50 percent from 1999 and the highest since the government started collecting such data in 1979.

About 4.6 million children, or one in 16, live in extreme poverty, according to the child-welfare advocacy group. For blacks the ratio is about one in 12.
“The state of millions of children in the richest, most powerful democratic nation in the world is morally shameful, economically costly and politically hypocritical,” CDF President Marian Wright-Edelman wrote in the group’s action guide, “The State of Children in America’s Union.”

CDF defined extreme poverty as a family living on less than half of what the federal government defines as the poverty line. For a family of three it was $14,128 in 2001, making the extreme poverty number $7,064 for the same year.

These family incomes also included the value of food stamps, subsidized school lunches and housing benefits.

The CDF estimated that there were about 733,000 extremely poor Hispanic children, and that the number of extremely poor white children rose about 2 percent to 1.8 million.

Edelman blamed welfare reform for eroding safety nets that protect the poorest of the poor.

The CDF specifically targeted Bush administration proposals to give control of the Head Start education program for 3- and 4-year-olds to the states, and changes to the way the federal government distributes Medicaid funds to the states.

The organization timed release of its report to influence debate over President Bush’s tax-cut proposals, which the CDF also opposes.

Supporters of changes in welfare, however, accused the Children’s Defense Fund of looking for something negative to say.

“Most black families reacted positively to welfare reform, and there was a small number that did not,” Robert Rector, senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation, told the Times.

Rector says poverty has dropped since President Clinton signed welfare reform legislation in 1996, and that 1.2 million fewer black children live in poverty now than in the mid-1990s.

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