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Trends in children in working poor families

Between 1995 and 1999, the percentage of poor children living in households with at least one worker rose from 67 to 78 percent, then fell to 70 percent in 2003. Workers include any person older than 15 who worked during the preceding calendar year, either 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. Between 2003 and 2007 the rate remained steady, before it fell to 67 percent in 2010. Since then, the rate has increased, and was at 69 percent in 2014, although comparisons are complicated by a change in the survey questions used to determine income. (Figure 1)

The percentage of poor children 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 remained steady until 2007. Between 2007 and 2010, the rate of poor children with a full-time, year-round worker fell from 34 to 27 percent, but this rate has since increased to 33 percent in 2014. (Figure 1) Contemporaneously, child poverty fell from 20 to 16 percent between 1995 and 2000, rose to 17 percent in 2005, and increased steadily between 2007 and 2011, from 18 to 22 percent, decreasing after that.[1]

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

Among all children, the percent living in poor families with at least one worker decreased between 1995 and 2002, from 14 to 12 percent. After remaining steady through 2006, this rate increased to 15 percent in 2011—the highest level ever recorded since 1995, when these data are first available. Rates have since fallen slightly. The percentage of children who are poor or low-income and have at least one full-time, year-round worker in their families remained steady over this time period. The percentage of children in full-time, year-round working poor families has fluctuated between five and six percent, and was at six percent in 2013. Under the new questionnaire, the proportion of children who were in full-time, year-round working poor families was seven 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 working low-income families was 24 percent in 2014. (Appendix 2)

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Differences by family structure

Among poor children in 2014, those in families headed by a single woman were less likely than those in married-couple families to have a family member who worked (59 versus 86 percent, in 2014). Among poor children in families headed by a single male, 67 percent had a family member who worked in 2014. Patterns were similar when looking at full-time, year-round workers only: 20 percent of children in families headed by a single woman, 56 percent of children in married-couple families, and 27 percent of children in families headed by a single man, had a family member who worked full-time, year-round. (Figure 2)

Among all children, those in families headed by a single woman or man are much more likely to be in the “working poor” category than are those in families headed by a married couple: in 2014, 28 percent of children in families headed by a single woman and 18 percent headed by a single man, compared with nine percent among those in married-couple families. The gap, however, nearly closes when looking at the percent of children who have a full-time, year-round worker and are low-income (27, 29, and 22 percent, respectively, for those in single-mother, single-father, and married-couple families). (Appendix 2)

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Differences by race and Hispanic origin[2]

Children in working poor families are disproportionately those in 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 than 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 are white and black children (76 and 80 percent, compared to 68 and 61 percent, respectively, in 2014). The gaps widen when considering children in families with full-time, year-round workers only, but the pattern is consistent. (Appendix 1)

Among all children, Hispanic and black children are the most likely to live in working poor families (24 and 23 percent, respectively, in 2014), followed by Asian children (11 percent), and white children (8 percent). Hispanic children are the most likely to be in poor families with a full-time, year-round worker, at 13 percent in 2014, followed by black children at 9 percent. Six percent of Asian and four percent of white children fall into this category. (Figure 3)

State and Local Estimates

2011/12 state estimates for children (ages 0-17) living in households with incomes less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level where 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.

2008-2013 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.

How to improve outcomes for children in working poor families

The Self Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse (SSRC) at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation) has a large collection of literature on programs and methods to increase employment among the poor.

The following Child Trends fact sheets also address this issue:

Also, see Child Trends’ LINKS database (“Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully”), for reviews of many rigorously evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective at increasing employment:

Data & appendices

Data Sources

Data for 2002-2014: calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Poverty in the United States: detailed tables: POV13, Related Children by Number of Working Family Members and Family Structure. Available at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/incpovhlth/2012/index.html.

Data for 1997-2001: calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Poverty in the United States: detailed tables: table 17, Work Experience of Family Members by Poverty Status of Families. Available at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/incpovhlth/index.html.

Data for 1995: Child Trends calculations based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Social and Economic (ASEC) Supplement, Current Population Survey (CPS).

Raw Data Sources

March Current Population Survey (CPS)

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

Appendices

Appendix 1 – Among Poor Children,1 Percentage With at Least One Worker in the Family: Selected Years, 1995-2014*

Appendix 2 – Among All Children1, Percentage Who are Poor or Low-Income and Have at Least One Worker in the Family: Selected Years, 1995-2014*

Background

Definition

Working poor families are defined as families whose income is below the official federal poverty level ($24,008 for a family of four with two children in 2014) and in which there was at least one worker in the family. A worker is defined as any person older than 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.

In 2013 and 2014, the questions that were used to determine family income were changed, so data are not strictly comparable to previous years’. For more information on these changes, see this paper from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Endnotes

[1]See Child Trends Databank. (2015). Children in Poverty. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=children-in-poverty.

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

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

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2015). Children in working poor families. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=children-in-working-poor-families