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

Housing Problems

Housing that is inadequate, crowded, or too costly can pose serious problems to children's physical, psychological, and material well-being.70, 71 Housing cost burdens, especially at high levels, are a risk factor for negative outcomes for children and their caregivers, including eviction and homelessness, overcrowding, poor nutrition, frequent moving, lack of supervision while parents are at work, mental distress, and low cognitive achievement.72, 73, 74, 75 During 2019, an estimated 107,000 children (2 per 1,000 children) were homeless at a single point in time, and 9% of these children were unsheltered.76 The percentage of households with children that report that they are living in physically inadequate,77 crowded, or costly housing provides insight into the impact of economic factors on housing choices and children's well-being.

Indicator PHY5.A: Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that reported housing problems by type of problem, selected years 1999–2019
Indicator PHY5.A: Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that reported housing problems by type of problem, selected years 1999–2019

NOTE: Data are available biennially since 1999. All data are weighted using the decennial Census that preceded the date of their collection. The comparability of data over time is limited by questionnaire changes in 2007 and a redesign and new longitudinal sample drawn in 2015.

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

  • In 2019, 38% of U.S. households with children had one or more of three housing problems: physically inadequate housing, crowded housing, or housing cost burden greater than 30% of household income.78 This was a decrease from 39% in 201779 but greater than the 35% prevalence of any housing problems in 1999.
  • In 2019, about 5% of households with children had physically inadequate housing, defined as housing with severe or moderate physical problems. This rate remained near a historic low compared with 7% in 1999.
  • The prevalence of housing cost burdens among families with children was 32% in 2019, a reduction from 33% in 2017, but 5 percentage points higher than it was in 1999 (28%).

Indicator PHY5.B: Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that reported severe housing cost burdens, selected years 1999–2019
Indicator PHY5.B: Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that reported severe housing cost burdens, selected years 1999–2019

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

  • The percentage of families with children having severe housing cost burdens, defined as paying more than half of their income for housing, was 13% in 2019, which is a decrease from 15% in 2017.
  • Among very-low-income renter households80 with children, 49% experienced severe cost burdens in 2019, which is not significantly different from 52% in 2017. The prevalence of severe cost burdens among this disadvantaged population has increased substantially from 37% in 1999.

table icon PHY5 HTML Table

70 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.

71 Krieger, J., & Higgins, D. L. (2002). Housing and health: Time again for public health action. American Journal of Public Health, 92(5), 758–768.

72 Bridge, C., Flatau, P., Whelan, S., Wood, G., & Yates, J. (2003). Housing assistance and non-shelter outcomes. Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.

73 Cutts, D. B., Meyers, A. F., Black, M. M., Casey, P. H., Chilton, M. Cook, J. T., Geppert, J., Ettinger de Cuba, S., Heeren, T., Coleman, S., Rose-Jacobs, R., & Frank, D. A. (2011). U.S. housing insecurity and the health of very young children. American Journal of Public Health, 101(8), 1508–1514.

74 Newman, S., & Holupka, S. (2014). Housing affordability and child well-being. Housing Policy Debate, 24, 116–151.

75 Liu, Y., Njai, R. S., Greenlund, K. J., Chapman, D. P., & Croft, J. B. (2014). Relationships between housing and food insecurity, frequent mental distress, and insufficient sleep among adults in 12 U.S. states, 2009. Preventing Chronic Disease, 11, Article E37.

76 The estimate is based on a count of children, in family groups or as individuals, who during a single night in January either were using an emergency shelter, transitional housing services, Safe Havens or on the street or other places not intended for human habitation. See Exhibits 2.4 and 3.3, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Community Planning and Development. (2019). The 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, part 1: Point-in-time estimates of homelessness. http://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/default/files/pdf/2019-AHAR-Part-1.pdf

77 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: 2019. U.S. Census Bureau. (2018). http://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/ahs/tech-documentation/def-errors-changes.html

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

79 For the housing problems indicator, the statistical significance of differences from year to year is determined at the 0.05 level of probability using standard methods. However, these methods are insufficient to determine conclusively whether changes are statistically significant because they do not fully account for the panel design of the American Housing Survey, in which selected housing units are revisited in subsequent years and therefore produce nonindependent samples.

80 The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines "very-low-income renters" as renter households with incomes at or below half the median family income, adjusted for family size, within their geographic area.