Children & Youth

More children in Berks County are living in poverty and in single-parent households, with deep disparities among children of different racial and ethnic groups. However, there are positive trends for Berks County’s children, too – many more women are accessing prenatal care, and the teen birth rate has dropped significantly.

Prenatal care, which is critical in reducing risks for complications of pregnancy and birth, was a bright spot in Berks County, with 84% of all mothers receiving prenatal care in their first trimester, higher than state and national rates. In addition, Berks compares very favorably with the state and nation in prenatal care for racial and ethnic groups: In 2017, 79% of Hispanic women, 82% of African American women, 84% of white women and 100% of Asian women in the county received early prenatal care. 

Growing up in poverty puts children at higher risk for long-term health and social problems, diminishing their chances for success as adults. In 2013-17, 21% of Berks children were living in poverty, up 8 percentage points since 2000, a larger increase than the state and nation experienced. Throughout the nation and Berks, poverty is higher for some racial and ethnic groups: In 2013-17, 44% of Hispanic children and 34% of African American children in Berks County lived at or below the poverty line, compared to 17% of white and 21% of Asian children. The local rates for Hispanic children are higher than for Pennsylvania and the nation.

Children raised by single parents are more likely to grow up in low-income households. In Berks County, 36% of families are headed up single parents, up 10 points from 2000. As with child poverty, there are racial disparities for this indicator nationwide and in Berks. In 2013-17, single parenting was nearly twice as prevalent among Hispanic and African American families (53% and 57% respectively) compared to white (35%) families in Berks County. Rates were up among white and Hispanic families since 2000. The county’s rates were similar to the state and nation, except for Hispanic families, who had a much lower national rate (41%).

About 7% of youths ages 16 to 19 in Berks County were disengaged in 2013-17 – not working or attending school. That’s flat since 2000 and similar to Pennsylvania and the U.S.

Teen births can prevent a young woman from completing her education or becoming financially self-sufficient. Babies born to teen mothers also are at higher risk for poor educational outcomes and living in poverty. Berks County’s teen birth rate fell 51% from 2000 to 2017, from 41 per 1,000 teens to 20 per 1,000. This drop was similar to Pennsylvania, but less than the nation.