Nearly 15 million children, or 20 percent of America's juvenile population, were living in poverty in 2009, according to a child welfare study released Wednesday.
More than double that number were in households where no parent had a full-time year-round job, according to the report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which noted that the child poverty rate grew about 18 percent over the past decade.
"This is really troubling because we had made so much progress in the 1990s in reducing the percentage of children in poverty," said Patrick McCarthy, the foundation's president and CEO. "Essentially the recession has put us back to where we were in the early 1990s."
In the foundation's first examination of the impact of the recession on the nation's children, researchers concluded that low-income children are likely to suffer academically, economically and socially long after their parents have recovered. As a result, they are less likely to be gainfully employed as adults.
The recession has been especially hard on minorities, the study found. Black children were twice as likely as white children to have an unemployed parent.
The study found that poverty rose in 38 out of 50 U.S. states and that Nevada had the highest rate of children whose parents were unemployed and underemployed. The state is also home to the most children affected by foreclosures; 13 percent of all Nevada babies, toddlers and teenagers have been kicked out of their homes because of an unpaid mortgage, the study found.
The research is based on data from many sources, including the Mortgage Bankers Association, National Delinquency Survey and U.S. Census Bureau.
The report found some bright spots.
In the two decades since researchers began compiling the annual report, infant mortalities, child and teen deaths, and high school dropout rates have declined. But the number of unhealthy babies has increased, and there were far more children living in low-income families.
Programs such as food stamps, unemployment insurance and foreclosure mediation have acted like a dam against the flood of poverty, experts said, but that assistance has been threatened by federal and state government budget cuts.
Mississippi kept its overall last place ranking in child welfare for the 10th consecutive year, according to the survey. It was closely trailed by neighboring Louisiana and Alabama, a nod to the poverty that plagues Southern states. Nevada ranked 40th overall, its worst ranking in 10 years, largely because of its economic decline.
The rankings are determined by a state's achievement in 10 indicators that reflect child poverty, such as undernourished infants, infant mortalities, teen births and children in single-parent families. The top state for children was New Hampshire, ahead of Minnesota, Massachusetts and Vermont.
Mississippi had the most children living in poverty, with 31 percent of its youth getting by on meager family budgets. New Hampshire had the smallest population of low-income children at 11 percent. The federal poverty level this year is $22,350 a year for a family of four, but child advocates claim that figure should be higher.
Mississippi's rankings were least affected by the recession, only because it long ago secured its worst-case standing. Overall, Mississippi ranked last in seven of the survey's child well-being indicators.
NPR's Pam Fessler contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press