05 June 2009

What Explains the 40% Rise in Poverty Among Young Children in Memphis?

Thanks to the outstanding work of TUCI's Databook Team, we understand that children born in our community face daunting risks, and we have reason to believe that the current economic recession will only exacerbate those problems. As Gene Cashman noted recently in The Commercial Appeal: "Year over year, we are seeing a generation of children born into very difficult circumstances that will negatively impact their development during the most critical years of their lives."

Even following the data closely, we remain at a loss to explain how - in the last decade - the child poverty rate for children under age five in the City of Memphis has increased by more than 40%.

Doug Imig, of TUCI's Center for Urban Child Policy, suggests that the rise in child poverty rates may be the legacy of White and middle-class flight from the city of Memphis, leaving behind a cohort of increasingly poor and minority families. To investigate whether this is the case, we currently are looking at shifting poverty rates and demographics across the Memphis MSA.

One thing we do know is that childhood poverty takes a heavy toll on early childhood brain development. Children born in poverty are developmentally 18 months behind their middle-class peers by age four. By the time they reach kindergarten, children from affluent families have cognitive scores 60 percent higher than the scores of children from poor families. Across Shelby County, over half of children growing up in poverty fail to finish high school.

We welcome your comments, reflections and insight.

The Urban Child Institute's Center for Urban Child Policy is committed to building public will and a sustained political voice for children in Memphis and Shelby County in order to improve the well-being of young children and their families.

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