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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016

Child Poverty

Children living in poverty are vulnerable to environmental, educational, health, and safety risks. Compared with their peers, children living in poverty, especially young children, are more likely to have cognitive, behavioral, and socioemotional difficulties. Additionally, throughout their lifetimes, they are more likely to complete fewer years of school and experience more years of unemployment.12, 13, 14, 15 Child poverty rates in the United States vary considerably by race and Hispanic origin, a pattern that is important given the links between poverty and other economic and social outcomes.

Figure 5: Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in poverty by race and Hispanic origin and family structure, 1980–2014
Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in poverty by race and Hispanic origin and family structure, 1980–2014

NOTE: This indicator is based on the official poverty measure for the United States as defined in Office of Management and Budget Statistical Policy Directive 14. In 2014, the poverty threshold for a two-parent, two-child family was $24,008. The income measure in the Current Population Survey (CPS) has been redesigned. The source for the traditional income is the portion of the 2014 CPS Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) sample (about 68,000 households) that received a set of income questions similar to those used in 2013. The source for the redesigned income is the portion of the 2014 CPS ASEC sample (about 30,000 households) that received the redesigned income questions. The 2014 CPS ASEC included redesigned questions for income that were implemented to a subsample of the 98,000 addresses using a probability split panel design. The redesigned income questions were used for the entire 2015 CPS ASEC sample. The proportion of children in male householder families (no spouse present) historically has been small. Selected data for this group are available as part of the detailed tables at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/index.html.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

  • In 2014, 21 percent (15.5 million) of all U.S. children ages 0–17 lived in poverty.
  • Overall, the poverty rate was much higher for Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic children than for White, non-Hispanic children in 2014.16 Some 12 percent of White, non-Hispanic children lived in poverty, compared with 37 percent of Black, non-Hispanic children and 32 percent of Hispanic children.
  • In 2014, children in married-couple families were much less likely to be living in poverty than children living in female-householder families (no spouse present). About 11 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared with 46 percent in female-householder families.

table icon ECON1A HTML Table

12 Strohschein, L. (2005, December). Household income histories and child mental health trajectories. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46(4), 357–359. doi:10.1177/002214650504600404

13 Duncan, G., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (Eds.). (1997). Consequences of growing up poor. New York, NY: Russell Sage Press.

14 Wagmiller, R.L. Jr., Lennon, M. C., Kuang, L., Alberti, P. M., & Aber, J. L. (2006, October). The dynamics of economic disadvantage and children's life changes. American Sociological Review, 71(5), 847–866. doi:10.1177/000312240607100507

15 Dahl, G., & Lochner, L. (2008). The impact of family income on child achievement: Evidence from the earned income tax credit (NBER Working Paper No. 14599). Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w14599

16 Federal surveys now give respondents the option of reporting more than one race. Therefore, two basic ways of defining a race group are possible. A group such as Black may be defined as those who reported Black and no other race (the race-alone or single-race concept) or as those who reported Black regardless of whether they also reported another race (the race-alone-or-in-combination concept). This indicator shows data using the first approach (race alone). Use of the single-race population does not imply that it is the preferred method of presenting or analyzing data. The U.S. Census Bureau uses a variety of approaches. Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately. People of Hispanic origin may be of any race.