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Government programs cut state’s child poverty in half, report says

More than 220,000 children in Massachusetts were kept out of poverty with the help of government assistance — reducing the child poverty rate by half, according to a report to be released Wednesday.

Nationwide, state and federal programs such as tax credits, nutrition and energy assistance, and housing subsidies cut the child poverty rate from 33 to 18 percent, keeping more than 11 million children out of poverty, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore philanthropy that helps children at risk of poor educational, economic, social, and health outcomes.

Government intervention had the greatest effect in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C., cutting child poverty rates by more than 20 percentage points, according to the report.


The Casey Foundation used the US Census Bureau’s supplemental poverty measure to calculate the impact of public assistance between 2011 and 2013. Unlike the official poverty measure, the supplemental measure takes geographic cost-of-living differences into account and also factors in federal and state programs for low-income workers.

The official federal poverty threshold, for instance, which uses a 1960s formula based on the cost of food, is about $24,000 a year for a family of four. But researchers have found that the amount needed to cover basic expenses is twice that amount, the Casey Foundation said.

Children of color are much more likely to live in poverty, according to the report. The poverty rate for Latino and African-American children is 29 percent, nearly three times that of white children.

In Massachusetts, the Casey report found, 29 percent of children would be living in poverty if not for government intervention; when that assistance is factored in, the rate drops to 14 percent.

Still, 200,000 children live in poverty in the state. Child poverty rose in Massachusetts last year even as it dropped nationwide, indicating that the state’s most vulnerable residents are not benefiting from an improving economy, according to US Census data.


Government programs such as food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit, which reduces the amount of taxes low-income workers owe, have lifted one out of seven kids in Massachusetts out of poverty, said Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. But many residents are still struggling.

“We still have 200,000 kids in poverty in Massachusetts. And that’s too many,” Berger said. “A significant part of the problem is that wages for a lot of workers are so low that you can work full time and still not be able to lift your family out of poverty.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@ globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.