Rising Poverty Rates Take a Toll on Two Generations

Washington, D.C. – The younger the parent and the younger the child, the more likely a family is to be poor, according to a new Child Trends report, Two Generations in Poverty: Status and Trends among Parents and Children in the United States, commissioned by Ascend: The Family Economic Security Program at the Aspen Institute.  As policy makers ponder the merits of alternative measures of poverty, the Child Trends report outlines the disproportionate effects of poverty on young children, young parents, and children and parents in single-mother families.


Among the report’s highlights:


  • The younger the parent, the more likely a family is to be poor.  Households headed by young parents (18-24) are more likely to be poor than households headed by older parents, regardless of marital status
  • The younger the child, the more likely a family is to be poor. Families with young children (0-6) are more likely to be poor than families with older children.
  • Overall poverty rates mask much higher rates for some sub-groups, such as single-mother families, whose poverty rate was 40.7 percent in 2010, compared to 8.8 percent for married-couple families.


The Child Trends report also summarizes the large body of research establishing the association between poverty and negative outcomes for adults, including parents, and for children. For parents, the negative effect of poverty extends beyond material hardships and basic needs, and is associated with increased mental health problems and difficulties in parenting.  Among children, the effects of poverty are potentially even more pervasive and lasting.  Children experiencing early, deep, or persistent poverty are especially likely to experience long-term, deleterious effects on their development and life circumstances, such as increased economic hardships as adults.


This brief draws on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and focuses a two-generation lens on poverty rates and low-income status among children and parents. In addition, it presents data on differences across race, age, family structure, gender, education, employment status and geography.


“Poverty can have a toxic effect on children and parents,” Child Trends’ President, Carol Emig, said.  “This report illustrates that poverty is particularly prevalent for children and adults at vulnerable periods in their lives – in the critical early years of childhood, when development is occurring at a rapid pace, and in the often challenging transition to adulthood, when young women and men are starting families and trying to establish independent households.”


“With single parents, especially women, and their children experiencing unprecedented rates of poverty, the country is at risk of losing the next generation,” Ascend Executive Director, Anne Mosle, said.  “Given the impact of poverty on young families in particular, this report underscores the need for solutions that address opportunities for parents and their children together, particularly in the area of education.  To ensure the next generation is on the path to success, their parents must also be on a path toward economic security.”


Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at all stages of development, across all major domains, and in the important contexts of their lives. Our mission is to improve outcomes for children by providing research, data, and analysis to the people and institutions whose decisions and actions affect children.


Ascend, the Family Economic Security Program at the Aspen Institute, is a hub for breakthrough ideas and proven strategies that move parents, especially women, and their children beyond poverty toward educational success and economic security. The program focuses on three key areas – education, economics, and social capital – to: fundamentally change the conversation around low-income families; engage across diverse sectors to develop a network of leaders and political will; and convene forums and create platforms to elevate effective two-generation policies and community solutions.  Ascend takes a “two-generation” approach in its strategy, focusing on both parents and their children.


The Aspen Institute mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues.