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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2020

Housing Problems

Housing that is inadequate, crowded, or too costly can pose serious problems to children's physical, psychological, and material well-being.32, 33 Housing cost burdens, especially at high levels, are risk factors for negative outcomes for children, including eviction and homelessness, overcrowding, poor nutrition, frequent moving, lack of supervision while parents are at work, and low cognitive achievement.34, 35, 36 The percentage of households with children that report living in physically inadequate,37 crowded, or costly housing provides insight into how differing housing types, conditions, and costs of different housing markets affect housing choices and children's well-being. Housing problems are presented for metropolitan, micropolitan, and rural areas, with further breakdowns between principal cities and other, suburban portions of metropolitan areas to shed light on challenges such as high housing costs that are found in urban centers.

Figure 10: Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that have housing problems by metropolitan status, 2017
Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that have housing problems by metropolitan status, 2017

NOTE: The U.S. Office of Management and Budget classifies counties as within a metropolitan or a micropolitan statistical area. The remaining counties are not classified and are considered rural in this report. Rural counties may include small urban areas, as well as completely rural areas. Nonmetropolitan counties include counties in micropolitan statistical and rural areas. Principal cities of metropolitan areas also are identified.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, American Housing Survey. Tabulated by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • In 2017, 39% of U.S. households with children had one or more of three housing problems: physically inadequate housing, crowded housing, or a housing cost burden greater than 30% of household income.38
  • Households with children faced greater prevalence of housing problems in principal cities of metropolitan areas (46%) than elsewhere in metropolitan areas (37%), or in micropolitan (36%) or rural (32%) areas.
  • In 2017, about 5% of households with children had problems with physically inadequate housing. Problems with physically inadequate housing were less prevalent in the nonprincipal city portions of metropolitan areas than in the principal cities, micropolitan areas, or rural areas.
  • Housing cost burdens were the most common type of housing problem, affecting 33% of households with children in 2017. The prevalence was greater in principal cities of metropolitan areas (39%) than in nonprincipal city portions (32%), micropolitan areas (29%), or rural areas (24%).

Figure 11: Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that have moderate or severe housing cost burdens by metropolitan status, 2017
Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that have moderate or severe housing cost burdens by metropolitan status, 2017

NOTE: The U.S. Office of Management and Budget classifies counties as within a metropolitan or a micropolitan statistical area. The remaining counties are not classified and are considered rural in this report. Rural counties may include small urban areas, as well as completely rural areas. Nonmetropolitan counties include counties in micropolitan statistical and rural areas. Principal cities of metropolitan areas also are identified.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, American Housing Survey. Tabulated by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • The proportion of families with children having severe housing cost burdens, defined as paying more than half of their income for housing, was 15% in 2017.
  • Severe cost burdens were significantly more likely to occur in principal cities of metropolitan areas (19%) than in nonprincipal city portions (13%), micropolitan areas (14%), or rural areas (10%).
  • Among families with children experiencing any cost burden, 45% had severe cost burdens.

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32 Breysse, P., Farr, N., Galke, W., Lanphear, B., Morley, R., & Bergofsky, L. (2004). The relationship between housing and health: Children at risk. Environmental Health Perspectives, 112(15), 1583–1588. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.7157

33 Krieger, J., & Higgins, D. L. (2002). Housing and health: Time again for public health action. American Journal of Public Health, 92(5), 758–768. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.92.5.758

34 Bridge, C., Flatau, P., Whelan, S., Wood, G., & Yates, J. (2003). Housing assistance and non-shelter outcomes (AHURI Final Report No. 40).Sydney, AU: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. Retrieved from https://www.ahuri.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/2167/AHURI_Final_Report_No40_Housing_assistance_and_non_shelter_outcomes.pdf

35 Cutts, D. B., Meyers, A. F., Black, M. M., Casey, P. H., Chilton, M., Cook, J. T., & Frank, D. A. (2011). U.S. housing insecurity and the health of very young children. American Journal of Public Health, 101(8), 1508–1514. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2011.300139

36 Newman, S. J., & Holupka, C. S. (2014). Housing affordability and child well-being. Housing Policy Debate, 24, 116–151. https://doi.org/10.1080/10511482.2014.899261

37 Physically inadequate units are defined as those with moderate or severe physical problems. Common types of problems include lack of complete plumbing for exclusive use; unvented room heaters as the primary heating equipment; and multiple upkeep problems, such as water leakage, open cracks or holes, broken plaster, or signs of rats. See definition of housing adequacy in Appendix A: Subject Definitions and Table Index of the American Housing Survey for the United States: 2017 (U.S. Census Bureau 2018). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/ahs/tech-documentation/def-errors-changes.html

38 Paying 30% or more of income for housing may leave insufficient resources for other basic needs. See Citro, C. F., & Michaels, R. T. (1995). Measuring poverty: A new approach. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/1995/demo/citro-01.html