Modest Progress on Child Poverty Preceded the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted September 28, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Updates childpoverty2019 2020

In 2019, 12 mil­lion chil­dren in the Unit­ed States17% of America’s chil­dren — were liv­ing in pover­ty. Both the num­ber and the per­cent­age were the low­est since 2001.

The medi­um-term trend in child pover­ty is unclear, and the lat­est num­bers reflect con­di­tions pri­or to the onset of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, whose effects on soci­ety have been wide-rang­ing. Here is a look at the con­flict­ing trends:

  • The share of kids in pover­ty fell each year between 2014 and 2017 but remained the same from 2017 to 2018 (18%), a stag­na­tion that was cause for con­cern. Every child should live in eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty that pro­vides them with the best chance to thrive.
  • Nev­er­the­less, the 2019 num­bers were encour­ag­ing, and the per­cent­age of chil­dren in pover­ty remains far low­er in 2019 than in 2011 and 2012, imme­di­ate­ly after the reces­sion (23%).
  • Racial and eth­nic dis­par­i­ties remain sig­nif­i­cant: 31% of Black chil­dren, 30% of Amer­i­can Indi­an chil­dren, 23% of His­pan­ic or Lati­no kids and 17% of chil­dren of two or more races lived in pover­ty in 2019. (The shares of Asian and Pacif­ic Islander chil­dren and white chil­dren, both 10%, were the low­est among racial or eth­nic groups.)
  • Although these dis­par­i­ties are per­sis­tent, the per­cent­age of chil­dren in pover­ty fell at least one point in every racial or eth­nic cat­e­go­ry from 2018 to 2019. The most sig­nif­i­cant reduc­tion was seen for His­pan­ic or Lati­no chil­dren (from 26% to 23%).

What about state rates? Here, again, the data are encour­ag­ing. Child pover­ty either fell or stayed the same in every state but one: Louisiana, where it rose one per­cent­age point to 27% in 2019. It fell in the Dis­trict of Colum­bia and was the same from 2018 to 2019 in Puer­to Rico, whose child pover­ty rate of 57% was more than twice the high­est state rate (Mis­sis­sip­pi, 28%).

In 2019, liv­ing in pover­ty meant that a fam­i­ly of two adults and two chil­dren had an income of less than $25,926. The KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter also is home to new­ly released data on child pover­ty by age and by race and eth­nic­i­ty and age. There are also fig­ures on chil­dren liv­ing under 200% of the fed­er­al pover­ty lev­el. Half or more of all chil­dren are grow­ing up in fam­i­lies with incomes below that key lev­el in Mis­sis­sip­pi (52%) and New Mex­i­co (51%), as well as in Puer­to Rico, where four out of every five chil­dren live below 200% of the fed­er­al pover­ty level.

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