tion of the child population. While white non-Hispanic children represented 75 percent of the nation’s children in 1980, by the year 2020 they are expected to be a little over 50 percent of the child population.2 In contrast, the proportion of minority children is increasing and the Hispanic child population is growing at the fastest rate and will exceed one in five children within the next few years.3
These data are important for a number of reasons, especially because of the strong association between membership in a minority group and poverty. Poverty is a major correlate of poor child health and has been shown to have important long-term health consequences, such that morbidity and mortality are strongly associated with income. The proportion of children in poverty has remained relatively stable at about 16 percent, but most recently, in 2003 (the last year for which statistics are available) that proportion was 18 percent.4 Moreover, 29 percent of children live below 150 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) and 39 percent live below 200 percent of the FPL.4
Although the absolute numbers and the recent suggestion that the percentage may be increasing are of concern, the more important point is that children are the one age group in U.S. society whose financial status has not improved over time.5 In fact, in the 1960s, before the institution of Medicare, elderly people were considered the most financially disadvantaged age group. However, over the ensuing years the rate of poverty among the elderly population has fallen by almost two-thirds, but the proportion of children who are poor today is about the same as it was in the 1960s. At that time, children were less likely to be poor than the elderly, but today, the rate of poverty among children exceeds that among elderly people, so that about two-thirds more children than elderly people are poor.5 Among minority children in 2003, 29 to 34 percent of black and Hispanic children were poor, whereas 9 percent of white non-Hispanic children were poor.5
A recent paper also suggests a growing intergenerational inequity in public spending.6 Between 1965 and 2000, per capita public spending grew more rapidly for elders than for children, so children today are getting a smaller share of the pie.
Children in poverty are much more likely to be rated as having poorer health than other children.7 Among the children in families with incomes below the FPL, 71 percent of the children are rated to be in excellent or very good health, whereas 89 percent of the children in families whose incomes are above 200 percent of the FPL are rated to be in excellent or very good health.4
Although the rates of disability among the young are considerably lower than those among people in older age groups, disability is neverthe-