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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2021

Child Poverty and Income Distribution

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. Throughout their lifetimes, they are more likely to complete fewer years of school and experience more years of unemployment.28, 29, 30, 31 These data are based on the official poverty measure for the United States as defined in U.S. Office of Management and Budget Statistical Policy Directive 14. 32

Indicator ECON1.A: Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in poverty by race and Hispanic origin, 2000–2019
Indicator ECON1.A: Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in poverty by race and Hispanic origin, 2000–2019

NOTE: In 2019, the poverty threshold for a two-parent, two-child family was $25,926. The data for calendar year 2017 and beyond reflect the implementation of an updated processing system. Users should use caution when comparing post-2017 data to pre-2017 data. The source of the calendar year 2013 data for this figure is the portion of the 2014 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) sample that received income questions consistent with the 2013 CPS ASEC. Data for calendar year 2014 and onward used the redesigned income questions. Users should use caution when comparing 2013 data to 2014 data. The data for 2019 were collected during the global pandemic of 2020. While the Census Bureau went to great lengths to continue to complete interviews by telephone, the response rate for the survey was negatively impacted. The Census Bureau creates weights designed to adjust for nonresponse, but non-respondents in 2020 are less similar to respondents than in earlier years. Of particular interest, respondents in 2020 had relatively higher income and were more educated than non-respondents. For possible effects on these estimates, please see https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/research-matters/2020/09/pandemic-affect-survey-response.html. The Census Bureau reviewed this data product for unauthorized disclosure of confidential information and approved the disclosure avoidance practices applied to this release (CBDRB-FY21-POP001-0097).

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

  • In 2019, 14.4% of all children ages 0–17 were in poverty, a 1.8 percentage point decrease from 2018. The poverty rate was higher for Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic children than for White, non-Hispanic children. In 2019, some 8.3% of White, non-Hispanic children lived in poverty compared with 26.8% of Black, non-Hispanic children and 20.9% of Hispanic children.3
  • From 2000 to 2019, there was a greater decrease in poverty for Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic children than for White, non-Hispanic children. The 2019 poverty rate for White, non-Hispanic children was not statistically different from the 2000 poverty rate. Conversely, the poverty rates for Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic children decreased from 31.0% and 28.4% in 2000 to 26.8% and 20.9% in 2019, respectively, whereas the poverty rate for all children decreased from 16.2% in 2000 to 14.4% in 2019.
  • Children in married-couple families were less likely to be living in poverty than children living in female-householder families (no spouse present). In 2019, about 6.4% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty compared with 36.4% in female-householder families.
  • In 2019, the poverty rate for White, non-Hispanic children in married-couple families was 3.9%, whereas the poverty rate for White, non-Hispanic children in female-householder families was 27.9%.
  • For Black, non-Hispanic children, the poverty rates were 7.8% for those in married-couple families and 41.5% for those in female-householder families in 2019.
  • In 2019, about 13.0% of Hispanic children in married- couple families were living in poverty compared with 40.5% in female-householder families.
  • Children ages 0–5 were more likely to be living in families with incomes below the poverty threshold than those ages 6–17. In 2019, 15.5% of children ages 0–5 lived in poverty compared with 13.9% of older children.

Family income distribution provides a broader picture of children's economic circumstances. Families with incomes below their assigned poverty thresholds are considered to be in poverty. However, the income-to-poverty ratio provides additional information on families' economic security. A family with income that is less than half of their poverty threshold would have an income-to-poverty ratio of 50%, whereas a family that has income that surpasses their threshold would have a ratio greater than 100%. As a family's income-to-poverty ratio falls below 100%, the more severe that family's economic circumstances are. As a family's income-to-poverty ratio increases above 100%, they experience more economic security.

Indicator ECON1.B: Percentage of children ages 0–17 by family income relative to the poverty line, 2000–2019
ECON1.B: Percentage of children ages 0–17 by family income relative to the poverty line, 2000–2019

NOTE: This graph shows income categories derived from the ratio of a family's income to the family's poverty threshold. In 2019, the poverty threshold for a family of four with two children was $25,926. For example, a family of four with two children would be living below 50% of the poverty threshold if their income was less than $12,963 (50% of $25,926). If the same family's income was at least $25,926 but less than $51,852, the family would be living at 100%–199% of the poverty threshold. The data for calendar year 2017 and beyond reflect the implementation of an updated processing system. Users should use caution when comparing post-2017 data to pre-2017 data. The source of the calendar year 2013 data for this figure is the portion of the 2014 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) sample that received income questions consistent with the 2013 CPS ASEC. Data for calendar year 2014 and onward used the redesigned income questions. Users should use caution when comparing 2013 data to 2014 data. The data for 2019 were collected during the global pandemic of 2020. While the Census Bureau went to great lengths to continue to complete interviews by telephone, the response rate for the survey was negatively impacted. The Census Bureau creates weights designed to adjust for nonresponse, but non-respondents in 2020 are less similar to respondents than in earlier years. Of particular interest, respondents in 2020 had relatively higher income and were more educated than non-respondents. For possible effects on these estimates, please see https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/research-matters/2020/09/pandemic-affect-survey-response.html. The Census Bureau reviewed this data product for unauthorized disclosure of confidential information and approved the disclosure avoidance practices applied to this release (CBDRB-FY21-POP001-0097).

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

  • In 2019, more children lived in families with medium income (29%) than in families in any other income group. Fewer children lived in families with high income (17%) than in families with low income (20%).
  • The percentage of children living in families with medium income was lower in 2019 (29%) than in 2000 (34%). Conversely, the percentage of children living in families with very high income was higher in 2019 (20%) than in 2000 (12%).
  • The percentage of children living in families in extreme poverty (below 50% of the poverty threshold) was 7% in 2000, rose to 10% in 2010 and decreased to 6% in 2019.33

table icon ECON1A HTML Table | ECON1B HTML Table

3 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 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. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

28 Strohschein, L. (2005). Household income histories and child mental health trajectories. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46(4), 357–359.

29 Duncan, G., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (Eds.). (1997). Consequences of growing up poor. Russell Sage Press.

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

31 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). National Bureau of Economic Research. https://www.nber.org/papers/w14599

32 Following U.S. Office of Management and Budget Statistical Policy Directive 14, poverty status is determined by comparing a family's (or an unrelated individual's) income to one of 48 dollar amounts called thresholds. The thresholds vary by the size of the family and the members' ages. In 2017, the poverty threshold for a family with two adults and two children was $25,926. For further details, see http://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-poverty-thresholds.html.

33 The percentage of children living in families in extreme poverty in 2019 was not statistically different from the percentage of children living in families in extreme poverty in 2000.