Chapter 5. Summary of Findings


Our purpose in launching this study was to broaden public understanding of the historic decline in child poverty, and, in so doing, to invigorate policy discourse on child poverty and renew a national commitment to reduce child poverty even more. As of 2019, 11 percent of our nation’s children remained in poverty. This study relied on data and trends from the past to help public officials and their constituents look forward to what is possible.

What’s in this chapter: In Section 1, we present a comprehensive picture of what led to the decline in child poverty from 1993 to 2019 by summarizing our findings from Chapters 2, 3, and 4. We also summarize the implications for different subgroups of children. Section 2 reviews our study limitations; in Section 3, we provide our thoughts on additional research that could further inform child poverty reduction efforts.


Section 1: What led to the historic decline in child poverty?​

The contribution of economic factors (Chapter 2)

We estimate that economic factors accounted for about 33 percent of the decline in child poverty from 1993 to 2019, with unemployment rates, single mothers’ labor force participation, and state-level minimum wages contributing most to the decline during this period. Median wages and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita were not associated with declines in child poverty, indicating that the benefits of economic growth did not extend to children at the lower end of the income distribution.

Below, we review the relative contribution of these five economic factors: unemployment rates, state-level minimum wages, single mother labor force participation rates, median wages, and GDP per capita.

Decreasing unemployment rates accounted for 18% of the decline in child poverty.

Decreasing unemployment rates played an important role in reducing child poverty. Our analysis showed that unemployment was strongly associated with both child poverty and deep poverty. From 1993 to 2019, unemployment fell by about 3.3 percentage points, following economic cycles. This decline in unemployment accounted for 18 percent of the decline in child poverty and 22 percent of the decline in child deep poverty.

Increases in single mothers’ labor force participation in the 1990s also played an important role in the decline in child poverty. Single mother labor force participation rates increased from 67 percent in 1993 to 79 percent in 1999. Our analysis found that increases in single mother labor force participation rates were associated with decreases in child poverty and child deep poverty and may explain about 9 percent of the decline in child poverty and 10 percent of the decline in child deep poverty. Each 1 percentage point increase in single mothers’ labor force participation was associated with a 0.8 percent decrease in both child poverty rates and child deep poverty rates.

Increases in state-level minimum wages also played an important role in reducing child poverty. Increases in real, inflation-adjusted minimum wages at the state level were strongly associated with decreases in poverty and deep poverty. State minimum wages are likely one of the factors that supported decreases in child poverty from 1993 to 2019: Increases in state minimum wages account for 7 percent of the decline in poverty and 9 percent of the decline in deep poverty. Each dollar increase in state minimum wages was associated with a 3 percent decline in child poverty rates.

Rising median wages were not associated with child poverty during the study period. While real median wages rose by 13 percent during the study period, we found no association between median wages and shifts in child poverty or deep poverty. This finding is indicative of rising income inequality, wherein households with higher incomes benefit disproportionately from rising increases in wages.

Similarly, increases in GDP per capita were not associated with shifts in child poverty during the study period. While real GDP per capita grew by more than one third from 1993 to 2019, we found no association between GDP per capita and shifts in child poverty or child deep poverty. As with median wages, this finding illustrates inequities within an economy where families with lower incomes do not share in the benefits of economic growth.

The contribution of demographic factors (Chapter 2)

Combined, the demographic factors we examined did not contribute to the decline in child poverty from 1993 to 2019, but did account for 43 percent of the decline in child deep poverty. We examined teen birth rates; the share of children in two-parent families; education levels within the adult population; the proportion of children who are Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Black, and Hispanic; and the share of children living in immigrant families. Some of these factors were associated with declines in child poverty rates, while others operated in the opposite direction—counteracting the first group of factors. Below, we review each factor in turn.

Declining teen birth rates were associated with sizable declines in child deep poverty but not in child poverty. While recognizing that the relationship between teen birth rates and child poverty is reciprocal—that is, teen birth rates are a symptom of child deep poverty as well as a potential contributor to it—the 72 percent decrease in teen birth rates from 1993 to 2019 was associated with 52 percent of the decline in deep poverty from 1993 to 2019.

Declining teen birth rates were associated with sizable declines in child deep poverty.

Increases in the share of children in immigrant families were associated with increases in child poverty and child deep poverty. Changes in the share of children in immigrant families, which grew from 17 percent in 1993 to 28 percent in 2019, were associated with increases in both child poverty and child deep poverty. A 1 percentage point increase in the share of children in immigrant families was associated with a 0.1 percentage point increase in both child poverty and deep poverty. This finding is alarming, but consistent with many immigrant families’ experiences with discrimination in the labor market and restricted access to many social safety net programs—two factors that safeguard children from poverty.

Increases in the share of Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children had no association with child poverty during the study period. While the share of Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children within the United States grew by 83 percent from 1993 to 2019, we found no association between increases in the share of Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children and changes in either child poverty or deep poverty.

Decreases in the share of Black children were associated with decreases in child poverty, but not with decreases in child deep poverty. The share of Black children in the United States shrank by 13 percent from 1993 to 2019, and we found that a 1 percentage point decrease in the share of Black children was associated with a 0.2 percentage point decrease in child poverty rates. This finding is alarming and, again, consistent with other research on the labor market inequity experienced by Black workers, including hiring discrimination and wage inequality. That is, our finding illustrates how decreases in the proportion of children whose parents face barriers to the labor market result in declines in child poverty.

Increases in the share of Hispanic children in the United States were associated with increases in child poverty, but not with any change in child deep poverty. From 1993 to 2019, the share of Hispanic children in the United States increased by 87 percent. Meanwhile, a 1 percentage point increase in the share of Hispanic children was associated with a 0.1 percentage point increase in child poverty. As with the finding for Black children, we found this association distressing but consistent with research on inequities facing Hispanic families—including both employment discrimination and exclusions from social safety net programs based on immigration status.

Changes in the share of children in two-parent families were associated with little of the decline in child poverty from 1993 to 2019 but may have strong potential to influence child poverty. The proportion of children living with married and cohabitating parents was strongly associated with changes in child poverty and child deep poverty. However, because this factor was fairly stable over the study period—increasing by only 4 percent from 1993 to 2019—it was not a large contributor to the decline in child poverty. We urge readers to interpret this finding with caution. Our study did not account for the multitude of reasons why children live in single-parent and no-parent families (e.g., death of a parent, domestic violence). Further, we did not examine the diversity of family structures (e.g., extended family, presence of grandparents, etc.) in which children live, nor the underlying sources of additional support that come with living with two parents.

Increasing education levels among adults were not associated with child poverty during the study period. While the share of adults (ages 25 and older) with high school degrees increased 12 percent from 1993 to 2019, we found no relationship between high-school completion among adults and child poverty. As previous research has found a strong association between higher levels of educational attainment and higher earnings, it could be that high school degrees have become less valuable in the labor market over time compared to more advanced degrees.

The contribution of the social safety net (Chapter 3)

The relevance of the social safety net to child poverty grew dramatically from 1993 to 2019, driven mostly by the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In 1993, the social safety net was responsible for reducing child poverty by 9 percent; in 2019, the social safety net reduced child poverty by 44 percent, safeguarding 6.5 million children from poverty. Our analysis of the social safety net includes an overview of 10 programs, both together and individually: the EITC, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Social Security, housing assistance, unemployment insurance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and an assortment of smaller federal programs.[1]

Below, we first present the findings for individual safety net programs, then speak to the social safety net as a whole.

The EITC, Social Security, and SNAP were the three most powerful programs safeguarding children from poverty in 2019. The EITC, the largest refundable tax credit, protected 1.0 million children from poverty in 1993. In 2019, the EITC protected 2.4 million children and reduced poverty by as much as 22 percent. This represents a substantially increased role for the EITC, which reduced poverty by 5 percent in 1993. The role of Social Security in reducing poverty also grew from 6 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2019; in 2019, it protected 1.4 million children from poverty. The role of SNAP waxes and wanes dramatically with economic cycles: During economic downturns such as the Great Recession, SNAP was particularly important as more families became eligible due to lower incomes and federal officials temporarily increased benefits. By 2019, SNAP reduced poverty by 11 percent.

Unemployment insurance played a modest role in buffering the impact of economic recession on child poverty. Unemployment insurance’s contribution to protecting children from poverty rises and falls in sync with economic cycles. During a period of economic growth in 2000, unemployment insurance reduced child poverty by 4 percent. However, during the economic recession in 2009, it reduced child poverty by 11 percent.

Housing assistance played a modest, but growing, role in protecting children from poverty from 1993 to 2019. In 1993, housing assistance decreased child poverty by 1 percent. By 2019, housing assistance decreased child poverty by 9 percent. While the proportion of eligible children in families that received housing assistance has declined, the cash value of benefits has, on average, increased—likely due to increased housing costs.

The EITC, Social Security, and SNAP were the most powerful programs protecting kids from poverty in 2019.

TANF (AFDC) was severely diminished as a tool to address child poverty and, particularly, to address child deep poverty. In 1993, AFDC was one of the most important programs for addressing poverty (along with Social Security). However, it was by far the most important program for addressing child deep poverty. At that time, AFDC reduced child deep poverty by 38 percent, preventing more children—3.1 million—from being in deep poverty than any other single program has since. By 2019, the program, which is now known as TANF, had been severely diminished and reduced deep poverty by only 4 percent. This shift in AFDC/TANF’s relevance to child deep poverty likely followed the introduction of state work requirements in the early 1990s, and, later, new federal rules under the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). PRWORA instated work requirements and time limits, eliminated eligibility for many immigrants, and allowed states to use block grant funds for non-direct cash transfers.

The role of smaller federal programs in reducing child poverty also increased slightly from 1993 to 2019. We examined SSI and found that it reduced child poverty by about 3 percent in 1993 and 7 percent in 2019. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) lowered child poverty rates by 3 percent in 1993 and 7 percent in 2019. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) reduced child poverty by less than 1 percent in 1993 and 2 percent in 2019. We also analyzed the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which lowered child poverty by less than 1 percent in both 1993 and 2019.

The social safety net now lifts more children out of poverty, but the economic well-being achieved for these children is about the same in 2019 as it was in 1993. While the social safety net has become a more powerful tool in safeguarding a greater proportion of children from poverty, the children lifted over the poverty threshold by the social safety net reached a similar level of economic well-being in 2019 as in 1993. For children lifted out of poverty, their income-to-needs ratio after receiving safety net benefits remained stable from 1993 (with a ratio of 1.28) to 2019 (with a ratio of 1.29). Further, the children lifted out of poverty by the safety net in 2019 may have had moderately greater resources to begin with, relative to the children lifted out of poverty by the safety net in 1993; before receiving safety net benefits, children in 1993 had an income-to-needs ratio of 0.54, compared to 0.65 in 2019.

The unique story of child deep poverty (Chapters 2 & 3)

In 2019, 3 percent of children were in deep poverty—a 56 percent decline from 1993. As with the reductions in child poverty, this is heartening news. However, our analysis points to three ways in which the decline in deep poverty was markedly different from that of child poverty.

First, both economic and demographic factors accounted for a greater portion of the decline in child deep poverty rates than the decline in child poverty rates. Economic factors accounted for 41 percent of the decline in child deep poverty, while demographic changes accounted for 43 percent of the decline. Together, they accounted for 84 percent of the decline in deep poverty. This is a reversal of the pattern we see for child poverty: Economic factors were a substantial contributor to the decline in child poverty, while demographic factors were a countervailing force; together economic and demographic factors jointly accounted for 22 percent of the decline in child poverty, considerably less than we saw for child deep poverty. The two most notable individual factors associated with the decline in deep poverty were declines in teen birth rates, which corresponded to 52 percent of the total decline, and decreases in unemployment, which accounted for 22 percent of the decline. However, the influence of these two factors was partially offset by a demographic change that put upward pressure on rates of child deep poverty: the growing share of children in immigrant families. Taken together, these findings suggest that, given the greater relevance of economic factors to rates of deep poverty for children, increases in the proportion of children in families that face greater obstacles to accessing stable, securewell-paying employment would put upward pressure on child deep poverty rates.

Second, the social safety net plays an important role in protecting children from deep poverty; however, unlike for poverty, its protective role did not grow from 1993 to 2019; thus, it contributed little to the decline in deep poverty. The relative role of the social safety net in protecting children from experiencing deep poverty remained fairly steady over time. In 1993, the social safety net reduced deep poverty among children by about 62 percent; in 2019, it reduced deep poverty by 66 percent. Meanwhile, the total number of children protected from deep poverty by the social safety net shrank almost in half, as the number of children in deep poverty decreased due to changing economic and demographic conditions.

While the social safety net’s role in protecting children from deep poverty did not change dramatically over time, its composition did. Most notably, welfare reform changed the historically most influential program protecting children from deep poverty: AFDC. In the early 1990s, AFDC alone reduced deep poverty by more than one third. This role quickly diminished in the mid-1990s, especially after the 1996 passage of PRWORA. By 2019, TANF (which replaced AFDC) reduced deep poverty by only 4 percent. Social Security and, to a lesser degree, the EITC filled some of this gap, playing an increasing role in protecting children from deep poverty.

And third, a combination of safety net programs, rather than any single program, is necessary to lift children from deep poverty. In 2019, more children were protected by the entirety of the social safety net (4.6 million) than the sum of all children lifted out of deep poverty by each individual program (3.4 million). This indicates that a combination of benefits across multiple programs was often needed to pull a child out of deep poverty.

The ongoing challenge of equity (Chapter 4)

Given longstanding disparities in child poverty, we explored whether the historic decline in child poverty was enjoyed—and enjoyed equally—by children from a diverse assortment of families. Further, we explored the extent to which the social safety net protected children with different characteristics from poverty. The highlight of this analysis was that all subgroups of children we examined saw declines in child poverty from 1993 to 2019.

While children in immigrant and non-immigrant families saw similar declines in child poverty from 1993 to 2019, poverty disparities persisted; further, the social safety net exacerbated these disparities in 2019. Both groups saw a nearly two-thirds decline in poverty during the study period: 61 percent for children in immigrant families and 62 percent for children in non-immigrant families. Both groups also benefited from a dramatic increase in the contribution of the social safety net toward reducing child poverty: from a 1 percent reduction in poverty for children in immigrant families in 1993, to 39 percent in 2019; and, for children in non-immigrant families, a shift from an 11 percent decrease to a 47 percent decrease. The social safety net consistently did more to reduce poverty for children in non-immigrant families, resulting in a social safety net that exacerbates disparities by parental nativity. Without accounting for the social safety net, children in immigrant families were 1.5 times as likely to live in poverty in 2019. After accounting for the social safety net, this disparity rises to 1.7 times. However, our results likely overestimate the role of the social safety net in reducing child poverty for children in immigrant families, and underestimate the disparities by immigration status, due to data limitations (see Chapter 4). These results correspond with the shift toward immigrant exclusion policies that took place during this time, which barred or limited access to social safety net programs for children (including U.S.-born citizen children) with non-citizen family members in their households. Without addressing immigrant exclusion policies that limit access to the social safety net for children in immigrant families (the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens), further increases in immigration will likely continue to put upward pressure on child poverty.

Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children, Black children, Hispanic children, and White children all saw similar declines in child poverty from 1993 to 2019; however, disparities persisted and were worsened by the social safety net in 2019. All four racial and ethnic subgroups examined saw decreases in child poverty of roughly 63 to 66 percent during the study period: 66 percent for Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children, 64 percent for Black children, 64 percent for Hispanic children, and 63 percent for White children. However, this means that racial and ethnic disparities in child poverty were left unchanged. Much like what we saw with immigrant status, the contribution of the social safety net toward child poverty decline increased for all races, but this contribution varied across groups, exacerbating disparities. In 2019, the social safety net decreased poverty by 51 percent for Black children, 44 percent for White children, 39 percent for Hispanic children, and 33 percent for Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children.

Child poverty rates decreased at similar rates from 1993 to 2019 for children in two-parent families and children in one- or no-parent families; however, child poverty disparities remain wide between the two groups, and the social safety net provided only minor support in closing the gap in 2019. Child poverty rates fell by 60 percent for children in two-parent families and by 54 percent for children in one- or no-parent families during the study period. However, the wide gap between the two remained largely unchanged: In both 1993 and 2019, children living in one- or no-parent families were about three times as likely to be in poverty as children in two-parent families. The social safety net’s contribution to reducing child poverty grew for both groups: In 2019, social safety net programs decreased child poverty by 41 percent for children living with two parents, and by 45 percent for children living with one or no parents. Further, the social safety net—in a departure from the pattern seen with other characteristics—supports a proportional reduction in child poverty for both groups. Still, while the social safety net provides a fairly equitable benefit to children across different family structures, this means that it does little to reduce the wide disparity in child poverty between the two groups. Without the social safety net, children in no- or one-parent families were 3.5 times as likely to live in poverty as their peers in two-parent families in 2019. Accounting for the social safety, this gap only slightly decreases to a factor of 3.3.

From 1993 to 2019, child poverty and child deep poverty declined at relatively different rates for children with and without stably employed parents, with greater declines for children with stably employed parents; similarly, the social safety net offered greater support to children with stably employed parents. We examined both poverty and deep poverty rates when looking at the influence of parental employment, as nearly one third of parents in deep poverty experience long-term unemployment. Child poverty rates declined for both groups, but faster for children with stably employed parents (by 61%) than for children without stably employed parents (by 28%). The pattern is more disturbing for deep poverty: Children with stably employed parents were 69 percent less likely to experience deep poverty in 2019 than in 1993, but children without stably employed parents experienced essentially no change in their risk of experiencing deep poverty. In 1993 and 2019, one in five children without stably employed parents lived in deep poverty.

These patterns match shifts in the social safety net. In relative terms, the social safety net played a larger role in reducing deep poverty for children without stably employed parents before welfare reform, but, since the Great Recession, the social safety net has played a comparatively larger role in reducing deep poverty for children with stably employed parents—exacerbating disparities based on parental employment stability.


Section 2: Limitations

Our most significant study limitation pertains to our use of a poverty threshold to examine changes in child poverty over time. Current thresholds for determining poverty, including the Supplemental Poverty Measure, represent an income level too low for households with children to provide for their basic needs. While we eagerly acknowledge that reductions in the proportion of children living below a poverty threshold are signs of progress, we also recognize that children in families slightly above the threshold still experience significant economic hardships.

Relatedly, our analyses examine poverty based on income and resource transfers but do not account for wealth. Previous research points to growing inequality in household wealth that vastly exceeds inequality in household income and exacerbates racial and ethnic disparities. Access to wealth affects how families navigate income poverty and weather economic downturns. A study that incorporated wealth would likely provide a more complete picture of how child poverty has changed across racial and ethnic groups, given wide and growing racial wealth gaps, for example.

Our study does not explore relationships between economic factors, demographic factors, and the social safety net. This means that our study cannot account for the possibility that the social safety net, or changes therein, might indirectly influence child poverty or child deep poverty through behavioral changes or an influence on either demographic or economic factors. Many public officials insist, for example, that shifts from out-of-work assistance to work-based assistance support greater workforce participation. We did see an increase in single mothers’ labor force participation in the 1990s. Yet, evidence from early-1990s welfare-to-work experiments and more recent research consistently indicate that, while work requirements can boost short-term employment and earnings, they do not have their intended effect of getting people into stable jobs that sustainably lift them out of poverty with their incomes. For example, previous research found that welfare reform accounted for only a small amount of the increase in single mothers’ employment rates in the mid-1990s. However, the EITC stands out as an exception. Prior research has found that the growth of the EITC, which is conditional on earnings, has indeed led to increased employment, and accounted for one third of the increase in single mothers’ employment rates in the mid-1990s.

We aimed to take a broad, high-level look at the social safety net; in doing so, we were able to examine many but not all of the key social safety net programs and factors associated with child poverty. The absence of the Child Tax Credit (CTC), Medicaid, and child care subsidies are particularly noteworthy: The data sets we used did not include Medicaid benefits and did not allow the CTC to be examined separately from tax data. Our national focus also precluded us from examining state and local programs, such as state EITCs. Additionally, while our findings point to an overall decline in the relevance of TANF as a tool to address child poverty, it is very important to remember that we did not review the influence of Tribal TANF programs.

Readers should avoid making direct comparisons between our findings regarding demographic and economic factors in Chapter 2 and our findings regarding the social safety net in Chapter 3, as we used different analytical methods. We likely underestimate the role of economic and demographic factors in reducing child poverty, as our analysis relies on state-level variation in changes in economic and demographic factors and holds constant conditions that affected all states equally at the same time (e.g., federal minimum wage changes). Our findings regarding the role of the social safety net likely underestimate its influence as well, due to underreporting of program participation in surveys used for this research. Importantly, though, our estimates of the role of the EITC may be overestimated as they do not consider immigrant exclusion criteria.

Family subgroups deserve greater attention and precision beyond what this analysis permitted. Due to small sample sizes, we were unable to provide any measures or findings for American Indian/Alaska Native children and families. Additionally, our data precluded us from examining the well-documented heterogeneity within racial and ethnic groups, in particular among Latino and Asian children. Further, while we used parental nativity to group households into immigrant vs. non-immigrant families, more insights could be gained from using citizenship or more precise and nuanced immigration statuses. Our data also precluded us from examining child poverty by parental disability status: Specific indicators of parent disability (hearing, vision, difficulty remembering, physical difficulty, disability limiting mobility, personal care limitation, or any of the above) weren’t included in the Current Population Survey until 2008. From 1996 to 2008, the Current Population Survey only included general health questions and a single measure of disability specific to conditions that affect an individual’s ability to work.


Section 3: Future avenues for applied research

While our findings provide the research field and public officials with strong guidance to inform their efforts to further reduce child poverty, many questions remain unanswered. Below, we provide an overview of seven areas for continued research—areas in which we’re particularly interested—that would inform public understanding of child poverty and state and federal policy making.

Capture lessons from the temporary social safety net measures implemented in response to COVID-19. Our study did not examine the shifts in the social safety net made to protect children and families during the economic downturn that accompanied the pandemic, including stimulus payments; expansions in the CTC, unemployment insurance, housing assistance, and SNAP; and federal and state eviction moratoria. Our analysis showed that unemployment insurance and SNAP likely helped to smooth the impacts of earlier economic downturns on child poverty. More recent child poverty data suggests that COVID-19 assistance might have protected millions of children from poverty, as does preliminary analysis examining the impact of the expanded CTC in the second half of 2021.

Examine individual social safety net programs for the contributions and/or obstacles they present for specific subgroups of children. Given our findings that the social safety net both reduces child poverty for all subgroups and aggravates multiple types of disparities, further analyses could identify the specific programs contributing to inequity and the specific mechanisms that widen gaps in support and opportunity.

The current social safety net limits immigrant families' eligibility based on their families' citizenship and immigration status.

Analyze the implications of parent citizenship and immigration status on child poverty, particularly for Asian and Hispanic children. Recent scholarship has begun exploring the linkages between citizenship and immigration status, access to the social safety net, and child poverty. For example, recent work from Dolores Acevedo-Garcia and the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at Brandeis University, and from Cecilia Menjivar at the University of California, Los Angeles, analyzes how citizenship and immigration status restrict immigrant families’ eligibility for social policies, reduce the benefit amounts they receive, and increase the administrative burden they face to accessing programs. These studies make clear that these restrictions disproportionately affect racial and ethnic groups with a higher proportion of immigrants, most notably Hispanic children. Our own findings strongly suggest that gaps by race and ethnicity in child poverty are in part due to inequities facing children in immigrant families. This is particularly important given that children in immigrant families represent more than 25 percent of the U.S. child population—up from about 15 percent in the mid-1990s—and more than 40 percent of all children in poverty. We hope that this overall body of research—along with future analyses of the connections between child poverty and immigration status—will inform public policy on work authorization and access to the social safety net for immigrant families.

Examine more diverse family structures by race and ethnicity to better understand the protective factors they offer against child poverty. Our study included only a limited examination of family structure, focused only on the presence of parents within the households. However, children live in many different family arrangements, with variations in family structure by race and ethnicity. While our study found that two-parent households provided children with some protection against poverty, further research is needed to examine the potential assets of family structures that provide children with access to other adults—e.g., grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.—and explore whether and how these assets might also protect children from poverty and affect their access to the social safety net.

Research the intersection of parent disability and employment status—particularly as it relates to access to the social safety net—and the implications for both child poverty and deep poverty. While our analysis did not examine the implications of parent disability for child poverty, our findings make clear the need to replicate our analyses with a focus on children with disabled parents. First, the social safety net exacerbates disparities in child poverty between children with and without stably employed parents; this finding is relevant for disabled workers, who encounter barriers to stable employment that may include health challenges and a lack of accommodations. Second, while Social Security is the most significant program safeguarding children from deep poverty, the social safety net as a whole has not made progress in reducing deep poverty. Social Security is not a child-focused program, but one of its core purposes is to address a loss in household income due to disability. The research field and policymakers need a stronger understanding of how economic factors and the social safety net serve to safeguard—or place at risk—children of disabled parents.

Incorporate into research the perspectives of children and parents with lived experience of poverty and deep poverty. A few times in this report, we remind readers that the poverty thresholds we use in our analyses are too low for many families. While they provide a useful goalpost to focus public attention and policy discourse, they do not necessarily reflect the well-being of children and families. Further, while this study highlights both the strengths and deficiencies within our labor markets and social safety net, the public needs a stronger understanding of how families experience the private and public sectors. Future research must do more to capture and lift up the voices of children and families, as well as their perspectives on where they’ve found help, where they’ve found obstacles, and what both have meant for their well-being.

Expand child poverty analyses to fully include American Indian/Alaska Native children and families. Indigenous Peoples in the United States and U.S. territories—including American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islanders—have experienced colonization in numerous ways. Some forms of colonization included removal and assimilation practices such as forced relocations and forced boarding schoolsColonization continues today through settler colonialism, political control, economic exploitation, racialization, and U.S. federal Indian law, both statute and case law. Past and present colonization result in historical trauma, which leads to numerous adverse individual, family, and community conditions, including high poverty rates. For example, counties home to American Indian/Alaska Native populations have persistent poverty at rates of 20 percent or more.

We are frustrated by the ongoing challenge of datasets that provide too small a sample of Indigenous children to support their inclusion in important research and analyses. Black children and American Indian/Alaska Native children are the two racial and ethnic groups with the highest rates of child poverty—the exclusion of either group from a study of child poverty is simply unacceptable. Further, without a sufficient sample size for this population, it is difficult for researchers to fully explore how the social safety net serves children in poverty and deep poverty. For example, we found that AFDC/TANF’s role in safeguarding children from poverty and deep poverty has declined substantially in recent years. However, there are numerous Tribal TANF programs across the country, and we were unable to examine whether TANF continues to play a strong role in safeguarding children in these communities.


Chapter 5 Endnote

[1] While data limitations inhibited our examination of the individual contributions of the Child Tax Credit, and other tax-based supports other than the EITC, our analysis of the social safety net as a whole includes tax-based assistance.

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