Children in Working Poor Families

Publication Date:

Dec 26, 2018

Key facts about children in working poor families

  • Most children who live in poverty have parents or other adult family members who are employed at least part of the year; the proportion of children in poverty with a family member who worked any time during the past year reached a high of 78 percent in 1999, but has since fallen to 70 percent in 2016.
  • In 2016, children in families headed by a single woman were less likely than those in married-couple families to have a family member who worked (62 versus 84 percent, respectively).
  • Also in 2016, among the racial/ethnic groups included in this indicator, Hispanic and black children were the most likely to live in working poor families (20 percent), followed by Asian children (8 percent) and non-Hispanic white children (7 percent).

Trends in children in working poor families

From 1995 to 1999, the percentage of poor children living in households with at least one worker rose from 67 to 78 percent, before falling to 70 percent in 2003. Workers include any person older than age 15 who worked during the preceding calendar year, for pay or profit, or without pay on a family-operated farm or business, at any time during the year, on a part-time or full-time basis. From 2003 to 2009, this percentage remained steady (around 70 percent), then fell to 67 percent in 2010. Since then, the rate has increased, to 70 percent in 2016; however, comparisons are complicated by a change in the survey questions used to determine income.

The percentage of poor children living with at least one full-time, year-round worker peaked in 2000, at 37 percent, an increase from 27 percent in 1997. After falling to 31 percent in 2003, the rate increased to 34 percent in 2004 and remained steady until 2007. From 2007 to 2010, the rate of poor children living with a full-time, year-round worker fell from 34 to 27 percent, but this rate has since increased to 31 percent in 2016. Contemporaneously, child poverty fell from 21 to 16 percent from 1995 to 2000, then increased to 22 percent in 2010, before decreasing again to 18 percent in 2016.[1]

Similar trends were evident for the subgroup of children living in families with a single female householder, although this percentage saw greater fluctuations (increases in the 1990s and decreases in the early 2000s), suggesting that this group may be more sensitive to overall economic conditions (Appendix 1).

Among all children, the percentage living in poor families with at least one worker decreased from 1995 to 2001, from 14 to 12 percent. After remaining steady through 2006, the rate increased to 15 percent in 2011—the highest level ever recorded since 1995, when these data were first available. Rates have since fallen slightly, reaching 12 percent in 2016. The percentage of children who are low-income (living in households with income less than twice the federal poverty level) and have at least one full-time, year-round worker in their families remained steady from 2002 to 2016, at around 22 percent. The percentage of children in full-time, year-round working poor families has fluctuated between 5 and 6 percent, and was at 6 percent in 2013. As measured by the revised survey item, the proportion of children in full-time, year-round working poor families was 5 percent in 2016, a decline from 7 percent in 2014. The percentage in full-time, year-round, low-income working families has fluctuated between 22 and 23 percent, and was at 23 percent in 2013. Using data from the revised survey, the proportion of children who were in full-time, year-round, low-income working families was 22 percent in 2016, a small decrease from 24 percent in 2014 (Appendix 2).

Differences by family structure

Among poor children in 2016, those in families headed by a single woman were less likely than those in married-couple families to have a family member who worked (62 versus 84 percent). Among poor children in families headed by a single man, 68 percent had a family member who worked in 2016. Patterns were similar when looking only at full-time, year-round workers: 20 percent of children in families headed by a single woman, 51 percent of children in married-couple families, and 28 percent of children in families headed by a single man had a family member who worked full-time, year-round (Appendix 1).

Among all children in 2016, those in families headed by a single woman or man are much more likely to be in the “working poor” category than those in families headed by a married couple: 26 percent of children in families headed by a single woman and 14 percent headed by a single man, compared with 7 percent among those in married-couple families. However, the gap narrows when looking at the percent of children whose families have a full-time, year-round worker and are low-income (27, 28, and 19 percent, respectively, for those in single-mother, single-father, and married-couple families) (Appendix 2).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin[2]

Children in working poor families are disproportionately members of racial/ethnic minority groups. In 2013, working families headed by someone who was non-white were twice as likely to be poor or low-income as those with a white, non-Hispanic head.[3] Among poor children, Hispanic and Asian children are more likely to have at least one person in their families who worked in the past year than non-Hispanic white and black children (75 and 74 percent, compared to 67 and 64 percent, respectively, in 2016). The gaps widen when considering only children in families with full-time, year-round workers, but the pattern is consistent (Appendix 1).

Among all children, Hispanic and black children are the most likely to live in working poor families (20 percent, each, in 2016), followed by Asian children (8 percent), and non-Hispanic white children (7 percent). A higher proportion of Hispanic children are in poor families with a full-time, year-round worker (10 percent), compared to black children (7 percent), Asian children (4 percent), or non-Hispanic white children (3 percent) (Appendix 2).

State and Local Estimates

  • 2016 state estimates for children (ages 0 to 17) living in households with incomes less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, in which at least one parent is employed full-time, are available through the National Survey for Children’s Health at the Data Resource Center on Child and Adolescent Health at http://childhealthdata.org/browse/survey/results?q=4775&r=1.
  • 2008–2016 state-level estimates that use a different definition of working poor (less than 200 percent of the poverty line, and at least one parent who worked 50 or more weeks in the previous year) are available from the KIDS COUNT Data Center at http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data#USA/2/16/17.

Data & appendices

Data source

Raw data sources

March Current Population Survey (CPS).

http://www.census.gov/cps/

Appendices

Appendix 1. Among Poor Children, Percentage With at Least One Worker in the Family: Selected Years, 1995–2016

Appendix 2. Among All Children, Percentage Who are Poor or Low-Income and Have at Least One Worker in the Family: Selected Years, 1995-2016

Background

Definition

Working poor families are defined as families whose income is below the official federal poverty level ($24,339 for a family of four with two children in 2016) and in which there was at least one worker in the family. A worker is defined as any person older than age 15 who had any work experience during the preceding calendar year, either for pay or profit, or working without pay on a family-operated farm or business at any time during the year, on a part-time or full-time basis. Full-time, year-round workers are defined as those who worked at least 50 weeks in the past calendar year, and at least 35 hours in a regular week. Low-income is defined as having a family income less than two times the federal poverty level.

For 2013 and later, the questions used to determine family income were changed, so data are not strictly comparable to previous years’. For more information on these changes, see https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/working-papers/2015/DEMO/ASSA-Income-CPSASEC-Red.pdf

Endnotes

[1] Child Trends. (2015). Children in Poverty. Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=children-in-poverty.

[2] Hispanic persons may be of any race. Estimates for white persons in this report do not include Hispanic persons.

[3] Povich, D., Roberts, B., & Mather, M. (2015). Low-income working families: The racial/ethnic divide. Chevy Chase, MD: Working Poor Families Project. Retrieved from http://www.workingpoorfamilies.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/WPFP-2015-Report_Racial-Ethnic-Divide.pdf.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2018). Children in working poor families. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=children-in-working-poor-families