Children in Poverty

Publication Date:

Jan 28, 2019

Key facts about child poverty

  • In 2017, slightly less than 1 in 5 children lived in families with incomes below the federal poverty line, the lowest level since the Great Recession (2007–2009).
  • Child poverty has generally decreased since 1960, falling from 27 to 18 percent of children in 2017, although the rate has risen during the Great Recession.
  • In 2017, the proportion of children in poverty, by race/ethnicity, is highest among black and Hispanic children (29 and 25 percent, respectively, compared with 11 percent among white children).
  • In 2017, children who lived in families headed by a single mother were much more likely to be poor than their counterparts living in families headed by a married couple (41 and 8 percent, respectively).

Trends in child poverty

After reaching 23 percent in 1993—the highest rate since 1964—child poverty (the percentage of children in families with income below 100 percent of the federal poverty level) fell to 16 percent in 2000. The rate then rose slowly through 2004, to 18 percent. Soon after, the child poverty rate began to reflect the most recent economic downturn. From 2006 to 2010, child poverty increased from 17 to 22 percent of all children under age 18, before declining from 2010 to 2017, to 17 percent. A small uptick in 2014, to 21 percent, may be attributed to a change in income reporting.[1]

Many researchers and advocates use a measure of less than 200 percent of the poverty threshold to identify families with low incomes.[2] By this definition, in 2017, nearly 4 in 10 children (39 percent) under age 18 lived in low-income families. Eight percent of children lived in families in deep poverty (below 50 percent of the poverty threshold). All these measures of poverty have moved in similar directions over time (Appendix 1).

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) is an alternative measure that accounts for the effects of taxes and in-kind transfers (such as SNAP benefits), regional differences in cost of living, complex family structures, out-of-pocket medical expenditures, and costs associated with work. In 2017, the SPM yielded a child poverty rate of 16 percent, down from 18 percent in 2013.[3]

Differences by race/Hispanic origin[4]

Hispanic and black children are much more likely to live in poor families than their non-Hispanic white and Asian counterparts. In 2017, 11 percent of both non-Hispanic white and Asian children were impoverished, compared with 25 percent of Hispanic children and 29 percent of black children. In the same year, more than half of Hispanic (54 percent) and black (57 percent) children lived in low-income families. By contrast, 27 percent of Asian and of non-Hispanic white children lived in low-income families. Black children were more likely than Hispanic children to be in deep poverty (15 and 11 percent, respectively), and both were more likely to be in deep poverty than non-Hispanic white or Asian children (each at 5 percent).

Differences by age

In 2017, the poverty rate for children under age 5 was higher than for children ages 5 to 17, at 19 and 16 percent, respectively (Appendix 2).

Differences by family structure

Children are much more likely to be poor if they live in a family headed by a single mother than if they live in a married-couple family. In 2017, 41 percent of children living in single-mother families were poor, compared with 8 percent of children living in married-couple families. This pattern holds for white, black, Hispanic, and Asian children. For example, nearly half of black and Hispanic children in single-mother families lived below the federal poverty line in 2017 (43 and 48 percent, respectively). However, only 10 percent of black children and 15 percent of Hispanic children in married-couple families lived in poverty in 2017.

After narrowing in the 1990s, the poverty gap between children in married-couple and single-mother families grew from 2000 to 2005, and then stabilized for a few years. From 2009 to 2011, the difference widened, but has since leveled off except for a slight narrowing in 2015 (Appendix 2).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

State-level child poverty estimates are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) at http://factfinder2.census.gov/. From 2005 onward, the ACS has yearly estimates of children living at multiple income-to-poverty ratios for areas with populations of 65,000 or more, and five-year-average estimates for areas with 20,000 or more.*

Additionally, state estimates for children in poverty (100 percent of the FPL), children in deep poverty (50 percent of the FPL), and other income-to-poverty ratios, as well as children in poverty by age group, are available from the KIDS COUNT Data Center at http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data#USA/2/16/20.

International estimates

Child poverty estimates (defined as the percent of children living on less than 50 percent of median disposable income, adjusted for family size and composition) for 36 economically advanced countries are available at https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/660-measuring-child-poverty-new-league-tables-of-child-poverty-in-the-worlds-rich-countries.html (see Figure 1b).

*Three-year estimates, covering 2003 through 2013, have since been discontinued. See American Community Survey: When to use 1-year, 3-year, or 5-year estimates. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/guidance/estimates.html 

Data and appendices

Data source

Raw data source

The Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC, formerly called the March Supplement), a joint project of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

www.census.gov/cps/

Appendices

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Background

Definition

Families are considered to be living in poverty if their pre-tax income (not including in-kind benefits such as SNAP benefits [food stamps] or the Earned Income Tax Credit) is less than the federal poverty level (FPL), an income threshold that varies by family size and composition. The thresholds are updated annually to reflect inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In 2017 the poverty threshold for a family of four with two related children under age 18 was $25,094, while the threshold for a family of three with two related children was $19,515. The thresholds are determined by estimating the cost of a minimally adequate diet for a family of a given configuration and size, multiplied by three.

Poverty thresholds for 1959 and beyond for various family configurations are available at http://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-poverty-people.html (Table 1).

Because the survey asks about income in the previous year, data for each year were collected in March of the following year. For instance, data on 2017 poverty were collected in March 2018.

In 2014, questions related to income were changed slightly, and this reduced comparability with previous data. More detail on this change is available at https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/working-papers/2015/DEMO/ASSA-Income-CPSASEC-Red.pdf.

Endnotes

[1] DeNavas-Walt, C. & Proctor, B. D. (2014). Income and poverty in the United States: 2013. Current Population Reports, Series P60-249. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-249.pdf.

[2] For discussion of the limitations of the federal poverty measure, see Blank, R. M. & Greenberg, M. H. (2008). Improving the measurement of poverty (Discussion Paper 2008-17). Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2008/12/poverty-measurement-blank.

[3] Fox, L. (2018). The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2017. Current Population Reports, Series P60-265, Table A-6. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/demo/p60-265.pdf.

[4] Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites in this report do not include Hispanics.

Suggested Citation

Child Trends Databank. (2019). Children in poverty. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=children-in-poverty