Emily Hsee

The poorest children in one of the nation’s richest states went relatively unaffected by a nationwide economic turnaround and health insurance expansion, a recent report on child poverty in Connecticut found.

The report, published by New Haven-based child advocacy group Connecticut Voices for Children, found that Connecticut’s child poverty rate remained stagnant between 2013 and 2014, while median household incomes and health coverage rates rose both in the state and across the country. Connecticut Voices for Children analyzed data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, which indicates that Connecticut’s poorest residents face significant barriers to economic opportunity — barriers that the organization’s representatives said are particularly damaging to children.

“Children do well when families do well, and families do well when they have sufficient economic security to meet basic needs, to flourish,” said Ellen Shemitz ’83 LAW ’87, the executive director of Connecticut Voices for Children and co-author of the report.

According to the report, in 2014, 14.9 percent of Connecticut children lived under the 2014 federal poverty threshold of $24,008 for a family of four. That figure does not represent a statistically significant change from the figure from 2013. Over the same period, the national child poverty rate fell from 22.2 percent to 21.7 percent, a change which is statistically significant. In Connecticut, the median household income rose from $67,944 to $70,048 over the period, and the overall uninsured rate fell from 9.4 percent to 6.9 percent, mirroring national trends attributable to post-recession bounce-back and the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, according to the organization representatives.

Sharon Langer, advocacy director of Connecticut Voices for Children and co-author of the study, said that one reason Connecticut’s child poverty rate did not follow the national trend may be the phenomenon of “pulling apart.” Though median income in the state rose significantly between 2013 and 2014, that does not necessarily mean low-income families saw their incomes rise, she said.

“In Connecticut, there’s a great divide between families or individuals with very high incomes and people at the bottom quintile of the income scale,” Langer said.

Shemitz also pointed to policy decisions, like the reduction of Connecticut’s earned income tax credit — which benefits working-class families and has been identified by state advocacy groups as a crucial method of lifting families out of poverty — in 2013 due to budget cuts, as a reason for the persistence of child poverty. The earned income tax credit was to be restored to its full amount of 30 percent of the federal credit this year, but it has since been caught in budget negotiations.

Connecticut’s child poverty rate is also significantly lower than the national average, which makes any decrease comparatively smaller, Langer said.

The report also identified a divide between racial and ethnic groups. In 2014, black and Hispanic children in Connecticut were more than five times as likely to live in poverty as white children. Hispanic children were more than twice as likely as white children to be uninsured, with black children only slightly more likely to be insured than Hispanic children.

Langer identified these as the results of minority families’ overrepresentation within Connecticut’s low-income population.

These divides matter, Langer said, because families’ economic circumstances have great impact on children’s future outcomes. Past research by Connecticut Voices for Children and other groups shows that children who grow up in poverty are at greater risk to develop health problems, perform poorly in school and face poor employment prospects, among other outcomes.

Gaps in health care may have particularly serious consequences for children and families who are uninsured. According to Ellen Andrews GRD ’89, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, access to affordable health insurance allows families to spend their limited income on more upwardly mobile aims, like their children’s education.

“Income opens a lot of doors, especially in Connecticut, and not having income closes a lot of doors,” Andrews said.

The overall share of Connecticut residents living in poverty in 2014 held steady without a statistically significant change from 2013 at 10.8 percent.