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WASHINGTON - Rising child poverty rates could mean higher crime rates in the future, a national law enforcement group warned today.
"Investments in high-quality early care and education programs are especially important today with reports that almost 1 million new children have fallen into poverty," said Miriam Rollin, the group's national director. "Research shows that enabling at-risk kids to attend these high-quality programs returns more than $10 in benefits for every $1 invested over the long term, with much of the savings coming from reduced crime and lower prison costs."
New poverty numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau today shows that almost 1 million additional children under age 18 fell into poverty in 2010, and that for the first time, over 25 percent of children under age 6 now live in poverty. Law enforcement leaders across the country have expressed concern that rising child poverty rates could increase the risk of crime in the future. Earlier this year more than 600 law enforcement leaders urged Congress to support high quality early care and education as an effective way to reduce future crime and save taxpayers money.
"The last two Census Bureau counts show that the number of children living in poverty during the recent recession is growing rapidly. This is a major concern for public safety because childhood poverty is a consistent risk factor for becoming a violent criminal or a victim of crime," said Rollin. "Even as young children fall into poverty, many of the cost-effective approaches we know can help steer kids toward long-term success are facing additional cuts. Law enforcement leaders and crime survivors across America believe that we must make programs benefiting the youngest children our top priority to avoid increases in crime in the future."
While crime researchers generally agree that short-term increases in poverty do not cause increased crime, a U.S. Surgeon General report that said that growing up in poverty is more closely linked to later involvement in violent crime than having abusive parents or watching violent television programs. According to the latest Census findings, the youngest children (under age 6) are now more likely to live in poverty than any other age group, including the elderly or adults 18-65.
Poverty among children under age six grew by 11.7% between 2008 and 2009, and rose again sharply from 2009 to 2010 with a one-year increase of 6.3%. The recent spikes in poverty for under age six are the largest since 1993. The overall poverty rate for children under 18 grew by 8.9% in 2008-2009 and by 6.3% 2009-2010, the largest single-year increases recorded since 1980 (see graph below).
New research findings published this June in the prestigious journal Science strengthen the argument that high-quality early education can reduce crime and steer disadvantaged children toward success. A follow-up at age 28 of over 1,400 low-income children in Chicago found that those who did not attend the Child-Parent Center preschools were 27 percent more likely to have a felony arrest by age 26 and were 39 percent more likely to have spent time in jail.