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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

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.29, 30, 31, 32 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 14.33

Indicator ECON1.A: Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in poverty by race, Hispanic origin, and family structure, 1980–2015
Indicator ECON1.A: Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in poverty by race, Hispanic origin, and family structure, 1980–2015

NOTE: In 2015, the poverty threshold for a two-parent, two-child family was $24,036. 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 2014 and onward used the redesigned income questions. Users should use caution when comparing 2013 data to 2014 data. The proportion of children in male-householder families (no spouse present) historically has been small. Select data for this group are available as part of detailed tables at https://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/poverty.html.

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

  • In 2015, 20 percent of all children ages 0–17 were in poverty, down from 21 percent in 2014. The poverty rate was much higher for Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic children than for White, non-Hispanic children.1 In 2015, some 12 percent of White, non-Hispanic children lived in poverty, compared with 34 percent of Black, non-Hispanic children and 29 percent of Hispanic children.
  • Children in married-couple families were much less likely to be living in poverty than children living in female-householder families (no spouse present). In 2015, about 10 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared with 43 percent in female-householder families.
  • Hispanic children in married-couple families were much less likely to be living in poverty than Hispanic children living in female-householder families (no spouse present). In 2015, about 20 percent of Hispanic children in married couple families were living in poverty, compared with 49 percent 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 2015, 21 percent of children ages 0–5 lived in poverty, compared with 19 percent of older children.

Children's 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 percent, while a family that has income that surpasses their threshold would have a ratio greater than 100 percent. As a family's income-to-poverty ratio falls below 100 percent, the more severe that family's economic circumstances are. As a family's income-to-poverty ratio increases above 100 percent, they experience more economic security.

Indicator ECON1.B: Percentage of children ages 0–17 by family income relative to the poverty line, 1980–2015
ECON1.B: Percentage of children ages 0–17 by family income relative to the poverty line, 1980–2015

NOTE: This graph shows income categories derived from the ratio of a family's income to the family's poverty threshold. In 2015, the poverty threshold for a family of four with two children was $24,036. For example, a family of four with two children would be living below 50 percent of the poverty threshold if their income was less than $12,018 (50 percent of $24,036). If the same family's income was at least $24,036 but less than $48,072, the family would be living at 100–199 percent of the poverty threshold. 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 2014 and onward used the redesigned income questions. Users should use caution when comparing 2013 data to 2014 data.

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

  • In 2015, more children lived in families with medium income (28 percent) than in families in any other income group. Fewer children lived in families with low income and with high income (22 and 16 percent, respectively) than lived in families with medium income.
  • The percentage of children living in families with medium income was lower in 2015 (28 percent) than in 1990 (37 percent). Conversely, the percentage of children living in families with high income was higher in 2015 (16 percent) than in 1990 (14 percent).
  • The percentage of children living in families in extreme poverty (below 50 percent of the poverty threshold) was 9 percent in 1990, decreased to 7 percent in 2000, rose to 10 percent in 2010, but then decreased to 9 percent in 2015.34 The percentage of children who lived in families with very high income (600 percent or more of the poverty threshold) has doubled, from 7 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2015.

table icon ECON1A HTML Table | ECON1B HTML Table

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

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

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

31 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.

32 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). Washington, DC: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w14599

33 Following U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 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 2015, the poverty threshold for a family with two adults and two children was $24,036. For further details, see http://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-poverty-thresholds.html

34 The percentage of children living in families below 50 percent of poverty in 1990 was not statistically different from the percentage of children living in families below 50 percent of poverty in 2015.