Percent of Poor Children Living with Working Parents Drops

Washington, DC – Among poor children, an increasing proportion were living with working parents in the late 1990s. However, for the first time since passage of the 1996 welfare reform legislation, that trend has reversed. In 1995, 32 percent of poor children were living in families with working parents. This percentage increased steadily to 43 percent in 2000. In 2001, the percent of poor children living with parents who were meeting the federal work requirement fell to 40 percent.

One of the major goals of welfare reform was to move poor families with children into the labor force; this is an important step to leading these families out of poverty. But many families meeting the work requirements mandated under welfare reform (20 hours for single parents and 35 hours for families with two parents) remained in poverty and have been identified as “working poor.” The latest statistics show a decline in the percent of poor families who are meeting that work requirement, even while the percent of children who were poor remained the same (16 percent).

These findings are available on the Child Trends DataBank,, under the updated Children in Working Poor Families indicator.

“These findings should inform Congress as they continue their work to reauthorize the 1996 welfare reform legislation,” said Richard Wertheimer, Ph.D., senior research associate at Child Trends. “The economic environment in which parents are trying to find jobs and provide for their families appears is changing. These numbers show that the larger economy has implications for children.”

The latest statistics show:

  • Between 1995 and 2000, the percentage of poor children living in working poor families rose steadily from 32 percent to 43 percent, before falling to 40 percent in 2001.

  • Among poor children, those in married-couple families are more likely to qualify as working poor than those in single-mother families (60 percent versus 33 percent).

  • Among poor children, black non-Hispanic children are less likely than children of other racial and ethnic groups to live with parents who are working.

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is an independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.