A child living on a remote Southern farm may be at a higher risk of poverty than counterparts in the city, as schools struggle to develop new opportunities and factories shut down what few jobs are available, according to a new report.
The brief by the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute found rural children in several Southern states fell into poverty at a faster rate than urban children in 2008.
The report examined population numbers released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau, which showed the South remains home to many of the nation's poor children.
The Institute found six out of 16 states saw poverty rates among children under 18 increase in rural areas while decreasing in metropolitan ones, with the highest increases in rural child poverty in Delaware and Florida. From 2007 to 2008, both saw increases of more than 6 percentage points.
The region also led the nation as home to some of the youngest rural poor: 2008 data showed almost one-third of rural Southern children under age 6 live below the poverty line, the highest percentage in the nation.
Experts say they are at risk for becoming poor adults.
''These are kind of the forgotten poor,'' said Institute director Mil Duncan, who blamed everything from racially based education disparities to limited early childhood education programs for persistent rural poverty.
''When we have good policies that work in cities, we need to examine how they can work well for rural kids in poverty,'' she said.
The Institute examined data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, released Tuesday. The data examined everything from income to food stamp use.
Beyond Delaware and Florida, rural children slipped into poverty faster than their urban counterparts in Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Georgia. In Georgia, numbers of impoverished youth increased 1 percentage point in rural areas and dropped 2.2 percentage points in central cities, data showed.
Among children under age 6, the South saw only a small increase of less than 1 percentage point and an equally small decrease among urban youth.
While other regions also saw a rural spike -- the percentage of rural poor children under age 6 jumped 1.9 percentage points in the Northeast, for instance-- Duncan predicted those gaps would decrease as the recession fades.
In many Southern communities, however, she predicted disparities would linger.
''The most important thing about child poverty in the rural South is that it's chronic,'' she said. ''It goes along with this legacy of underinvestment.''
Census data showed between 2007 and 2008, real median household income declined in the South by 4.9 percent to $45,590 -- the biggest decline and the lowest median income in the nation.
Experts have blamed everything from the influx of immigrants stuck in menial jobs to generational under education among blacks for southern poverty levels that have led the nation for decades.
One Institute survey found up to 40 percent of rural southern respondents had a parent who dropped out in middle school.
''In poor rural communities there still aren't strong schools and real opportunities, especially for African-Americans,'' Duncan said.
Their limited opportunities trickle down to kids: 11 southern states had child poverty levels above 20 percent in 2008, Census data shows.
In Albany, Tony Hall sees evidence of creeping rural poverty daily. Hall, vice president of operations for the Food Bank of Southwest Georgia, said more parents are asking for the backpacks his group fills with snacks and distributes to needy children weekly.
He said they're men and women suffering as factories leave rural areas, taking with them many of the jobs in these isolated communities. Meanwhile, he said rural parents struggle to access services for their kids when it may involve a long drive.
''It's hard to get it because you're in a rural area,'' he said. ''People don't have transportation to get to these sites where they may be giving out products.''