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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2018

Child Poverty and Extreme 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. Throughout their lifetimes they are more likely to complete fewer years of school and experience more years of unemployment.2, 3, 4 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 less than 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, its economic circumstances become more severe.

The data presented here are based on the official poverty measure for the United States as defined in U.S. Office of Management and Budget's Statistical Policy Directive 14.5

Figure 1: Percentage of children ages 0–17 by family income relative to the poverty threshold, 1980–2016
Percentage of children ages 0–17 by family income relative to the poverty threshold, 1980–2016

NOTE: The income categories were derived from the ratio of a family's income to the family's poverty threshold. In 2016, the poverty threshold for a family of four with two children was $24,339. 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.

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

  • In 2016, 18 percent of all children ages 0–17 were living in poverty (that is, in families with incomes below 100 percent of the poverty threshold), down from 22 percent in 2010.
  • 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 8 percent in 2016.
  • The percentage of children who lived in families with low income (100 percent to 199 percent of the poverty threshold) has declined from 25 percent in 1981 to 21 percent in 2016.

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2 Duncan, G., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (Eds.). (1999). Consequences of growing up poor. New York, NY: Russell Sage Press.

3 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.

4 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.

5 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 2016, the poverty threshold for a family with two adults and two children was $24,339. For further details, see http://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-poverty-thresholds.html.