Spatial inequality and poverty among American children

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National-level statistics often mask extreme spatial differentiation in child poverty. Using county-level data from the 1990 US decennial census summary tape file, we show that child poverty is distributed unevenly over geographic space. Child poverty is concentrated in counties in Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and the southern’ black belt‘. Child poverty rates are strongly influenced by the local industrial composition (e.g., agriculture and manufacturing), but the effects are largely indirect, operating primarily through reduced employment opportunities among adult workers. High county unemployment and underemployment rates contribute directly to children's economic deprivation, as well as indirectly by undermining the formation and stability of two-parent families. Our results highlight existing spatial differentiation and inequality in children's economic well-being, and provide a point of departure for additional research on the geography of child poverty.

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