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Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide, Volume I, Wellbeing in Children and Families by Cary L. Cooper, Susan H. Landry

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15

Poverty, Public Policy, and Children's Wellbeing

Aletha C. Huston

University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A.

Poverty among families with children has been a persistent problem in the United States since the 1950s, when data began to be available. Rates of poverty have fluctuated over the years, with a significant dip in the 1960s and early 1970s, but they rose in the 1990s and reached high levels again in 2009. Programs for early intervention and aid to education in the 1960s War on Poverty were created because policy makers recognized that children living in poverty face multiple disadvantages that accumulate over time. In this chapter, I discuss some of the research illuminating the impacts of poverty on children, and then turn to the safety-net programs designed to reduce poverty or alleviate its effects on children.

Definitions of Poverty

For purposes of public programs and policies, including eligibility for services and block grants, the United States uses a definition of poverty that was created in 1963; it was initially defined as annual pretax income lower than three times the cost of a minimally adequate diet. The poverty threshold depends on the number of people in the family and is adjusted annually for inflation, but it does not take into account regional variations in cost of living except in Alaska and Hawaii. In 2012, the threshold was $23,050 for a family of four, and $19,090 for a family consisting of a single parent with two children. Because the poverty definition ...

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