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More children live in poverty

Each U.S. recession plunges millions more American children into poverty. And even when the economy recovers, most never climb out.

It's a bleak picture, and it's what the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) presented Sunday in a report.

"Poor families in America are all of us _ white, black, brown, hard working, two-parent and single-parent families . . . fathers and mothers struggling to earn decent wages," said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the group.

In the 1980s, children became the poorest segment of the U.S. population, the report said. Almost one-quarter of all U.S. children will live in poverty in the year 2000 _ about 22.8 percent, up from 20 percent in 1989, according to the report.

That is the highest percentage of children living in poverty of any industrialized nation and more than five times the rate of Switzerland or Sweden.

"Recessions are throwing more children into poverty, and economic recoveries are less effective than in the past in bringing them out of poverty," the CDF, a non-profit advocacy group, said.

Calling child poverty "a $28-billion problem," it said tax credits, parental-leave policies and higher wages are needed to help children.

It would have taken $28-billion in 1989 to lift the 12-million poor children up to the poverty line, the CDF said.

Back-to-back recessions from 1979 to 1983 created 3.5-million more poor children and only one-third were lifted out of poverty by economic growth, the report said.

Based on the outcome of past recessions, by the year 2000 there could be 14.8-million poor children, according to the CDF.

The authors of the report, "Child Poverty in America," said they found that these children were also victims of a misleading stereotype that cast them as part of poor urban families on welfare.

"In 1989 only one in 10 poor children in America was a black child living in a female-headed family on welfare in a central city," James Weill and Clifford Johnson wrote.

The report says most poor children are white, live in small cities, suburbs or rural areas and come from working families.

"The stereotype is the exception," the report concludes.

The report also says that nearly two-thirds of all poor families with children have only one or two children _ again defying the stereotype of poor families with many children, and those continuing to have children when they cannot afford them.

Most poor children are in families where one parent is working full time but cannot make enough to lift them out of poverty. Many more also are deeper in poverty than in the 1970s. Today, two out of five poor children are in families earning less than half the poverty level, the report said.

The official poverty line in 1989 was $9,885 for a family of three and $12,675 for a family of four. A full-time, year-round job at the minimum wage pays $8,840 a year.

From 1979 to 1989, the number of poor children had risen by 2.2-million to a net total of 12-million, about one-fifth the total number of children in this country.

"Children are almost twice as likely to be poor as any other group of Americans, including the elderly," says the report.

The report blamed cuts in government benefits to the poor for nearly half the increase in the poverty rate for children since 1979. Rising unemployment and falling wages were responsible for one-third of the increase in poverty among families with children.

"Spending cuts during the 1980s exacerbated the extent to which poor families with children are shortchanged by public programs," the report said, adding that spending for cash payments to low-income families with children fell 21 percent over the decade.

The CDF recommended Congress approve a children's tax credit to reduce taxes for every family with children or to be paid to those who owe no taxes.

It recommended the government make sure all children not living with both parents receive at least a minimum of child support from the absent parent.

It also recommended an increase in the minimum wage to $4.65 per hour from $4.25.

_ Information from AP and Scripps Howard News Service was used in this report.