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The latest Census numbers indicate that, while conditions may be improving for some children and adults, the overall economic well-being of our nation’s youngest citizens is worrisome, particularly so for black and Hispanic children. The data show that in 2017, one in five infants and toddlers (19.9 percent of children ages birth through two years) were poor; this statistic is almost identical to the 2016 rate of 19.6 percent.[1] In 2017, infants and toddlers represented the age group most likely to live in poverty.[2] The disparities in poverty levels among infants and toddlers by race and ethnicity are particularly concerning: in 2017, nearly 1 in 3 black infants and toddlers (32.7 percent), and more than 1 in 4 Hispanic infants and toddlers (27.3 percent) lived in poverty, compared to approximately 1 in 9 white, non-Hispanic infants and toddlers (11.8 percent).[3]

The most dramatic disparities are among infants (up to one year of age). While the overall percentage of infants living in poverty significantly increased between 2016 and 2017 from 17.2 percent to 20.2 percent,[4] the largest increases were among black and Hispanic infants, for whom the poverty rate rose by six and eight percentage points—28.5 to 34.4 percent and 20.7 to 28.4 percent, respectively.

The conditions of poverty have lifelong negative impacts on children’s development in all domains—physical, social-emotional, cognitive, and linguistic. This should be of concern to all, since the economic health of our youngest citizens will greatly influence population health and the capabilities of our future workforce.[5] As America becomes increasingly diverse racially and ethnically, it is imperative that we turn our collective attention to infants and toddlers, the most vulnerable Americans, in order to identify policy and practice solutions that will support equity in children’s development.


[1] Analysis conducted by Child Trends. Data source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2018 Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

[2] Analysis conducted by Child Trends. Data source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2018 Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

[3] Data source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2018 Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

[4] Analysis conducted by Child Trends on U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2018 Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

[5] Knudsen, E. I., Heckman, J. J., Cameron, J. L., & Shonkoff, J. P. (2006). Economic, neurobiological, and behavioral perspectives on building America’s future workforce. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(27), 10155-10162.

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