An Interview with William O'Hare, Ph.D, on Rural Child Poverty
August 8, 2007
William O’Hare is currently a senior fellow with the KIDS COUNT project
at the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a rural fellow with the Carsey Institute.
He is author of several Carsey Institute publications, including “Rural
Workers Would Benefit More Than Urban Workers from an Increase in the Federal
Minimum Wage,” “U.S. Rural Soldiers Account for a Disproportionately
High Share of Casualties in Iraq” and “Afghanistan, and Child Poverty
in Rural America.”
O’Hare has nearly 30 years of experience as an applied demographer specializing
in making socio-demographic data available to the public and to policymakers.
Interviewed by Amy Seif on 3/20/07.
Seif: How many rural children live in poverty, and how does this number compare
to the rate among urban children?
O’Hare: There are about 2.5 million poor children in rural America and
the rate of child poverty is higher for children in rural America than for
those in urban America – defined as inside and outside metropolitan areas—and
it has been higher ever since we started measuring poverty on a systematic
basis in the 1960s. The most recent data from the Census Bureau’s American
Community Survey shows that 22.5 percent of rural children live in poverty
compared to 19.2 percent for children in metropolitan areas. However, the rural
child poverty rate varied from a low of 6.3 percent in rural Connecticut to
a high of 36.7 percent in rural Mississippi.
AS: Are rates of rural children living in poverty rising and, if so, why?
WO: Since the economic recession of 2000-2001 child poverty rates in rural
American have increased significantly...by roughly 3 percentage points. Most
analysts point to the changing economic structure in rural America and the
loss of good-paying jobs as the reason for increasing child poverty. Compared
to parents in metro areas, a much higher share of rural parents are underemployed.
AS: What do these poverty statistics mean for children’s quality of
life and life chances?
WO: The poverty rate is probably the single most widely used indicator of
well-being. For children it is particularly important because child poverty
is related to a host of negative outcomes such as dropping out of high school,
becoming a teen parent, or having health problems..
AS: How many rural children go without health insurance, and why do these
children lack coverage?
WO: Overall, about 11 percent of rural children lack health insurance which
is the same as the rate in urban America. One indication of the loss of good
jobs in rural America is that fact that employer-based health insurance has
declined more rapidly in rural areas than in urban America. Data show that
most children who lack health insurance are actually eligible for the State
Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) or Medicaid. But many parents don’t
realize their children are eligible for health care coverage or procedural
barriers discourage them from applying for SCHIP or Medicaid. Reliance on public
assistance (even for public health insurance) often carries more of a stigma
for people in small towns than for people in larger metropolitan areas. It
is also noteworthy that the most remote rural counties have the highest rate
of uninsured kids.
AS: What programs do low-income rural children rely on most for affordable
WO: Today, more than half (53 percent) of all rural children in low-income
families rely on SCHIP or Medicaid for health insurance. In 1998, the first
year after the SCHIP legislation was passed, only 36 percent of rural children
in low-income families were enrolled in SCHIP or Medicaid.
AS: What are some other areas which policymakers should pay attention to in
order to reduce the numbers of rural children affected by poverty?
WO: The transition from youth to adulthood seems to be particularly problematic
for young folks in rural America. If policymakers could enhance economic and
educational opportunities in small towns and rural areas, more young folks
would be able to make a smoother transition. Things as simple as making sure
rural areas have access to broadband communication services and access to community
colleges would be helpful.