Kids in the City: Indicators of Child Well-Being in Large Cities from the 2004 American Community Survey

Analysis of data from the Census Bureau's 2004 American Community Survey on the 50-largest cities in the U.S. reveals that:

  • In 2004, the child poverty rate in the nation's 50 largest cities was 28 percent, much higher than the national child poverty rate of 18 percent. Estimated child poverty rates in big cities ranged widely, however; cities like Virginia Beach and Wichita occupied the low end of the distribution, while cities like Atlanta and Detroit exhibited very high poverty rates.

  • The child poverty rate increased significantly between 1999 and 2004 nationwide and in the 50 largest cities. Sixteen cities experienced a statistically significant increase in their child poverty rates between 1999 and 2004, and only one—Los Angeles—saw a significant decline.

  • Across large cities, the share of children with no parents in the labor force was very closely associated with child poverty rates. Cities that ranked high on child poverty also tended to have high proportions of children living in single-parent families. Parental education levels did not relate as closely to child poverty at the city level as either labor force participation or single parenthood.

  • Cities with falling, mostly white and black populations, such as Baltimore and Cleveland, had the highest rates of child poverty and children living in single-parent families. Cities with growing, multiethnic populations, such as Austin and Phoenix, had lower-than-average child poverty rates largely due to their higher rates of parental work and lower rates of single parenthood.

By continuing to track indicators of child well-being at the local level using tools like the American Community Survey, individuals and institutions concerned about the future of children can contribute to a more informed dialogue about how to ensure better opportunities for disadvantaged kids and families nationwide.