How Many Kids in the United States Are Living in Poverty?

Updated on January 21, 2020 and originally posted July 10, 2018 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Across the United States, 14.1 million kids are living in poverty

In Amer­i­ca today, 18% of all kids — near­ly 13 mil­lion chil­dren total — are liv­ing in poverty.

In the last decade, this rate has risen from 18% in 2007 and 2008, peaked at 23% in 2011 and 2012, and returned to 18% in 2017 and 2018.

Where is child pover­ty most com­mon in the Unit­ed States?

The like­li­hood that a child lives in pover­ty varies by loca­tion. Child pover­ty is most com­mon in Mis­sis­sip­pi, Louisiana and New Mex­i­co. In each of these states, more than 25% of all kids are grow­ing up in pover­ty. In Puer­to Rico, a U.S. ter­ri­to­ry, the child pover­ty rates climbs even high­er — to 57%. Mean­while, kids in North Dako­ta and Utah are the least like­ly to live in pover­ty — just 10% do.

Check the 2019 KIDS COUNT Data Book and the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter to learn the child pover­ty rate in each state.

How many kids in the Unit­ed States are born into pover­ty each year?

Infants and tod­dlers (ages 2 and under) rep­re­sent the age group most like­ly to live in pover­ty. Data show that near­ly half of America’s babies are liv­ing in or near pover­ty. Pover­ty, espe­cial­ly at its extremes can neg­a­tive­ly affect how the body and mind devel­op and can alter the fun­da­men­tal archi­tec­ture of the brain. This dimin­ish­es brain func­tion need­ed for school readi­ness and aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess puts chil­dren in the low­est socio-eco­nom­ic group behind their more afflu­ent peers in mea­sures of cog­ni­tive, lan­guage and socio-emo­tion­al development.

In 2018, near­ly one in five infants, tod­dlers and preschool­ers (ages of birth – 5) were poor. Expo­sure to pover­ty dur­ing the time of great­est brain devel­op­ment can have long-term con­se­quences to a child’s well-being. The impacts are great putting chil­dren in the low­est socio-eco­nom­ic group behind their more afflu­ent peers in mea­sures of cog­ni­tive, lan­guage and socio-emo­tion­al development.

What fac­tors affect child pover­ty the most?

Child pover­ty rates vary by race and eth­nic­i­ty, with chil­dren of col­or fac­ing the great­est risks. Across the nation, 32% for African Amer­i­can chil­dren, 31% of Amer­i­can Indi­an chil­dren and 26% of His­pan­ic or Lati­no chil­dren are liv­ing in pover­ty. Rates are low­est — dip­ping to 11% — for both white kids and Asian and Pacif­ic Islander kids.

What is the def­i­n­i­tion of child poverty?

Child pover­ty occurs when a child lives in a house­hold where the com­bined annu­al earn­ings of all adults falls below a fed­er­al­ly set income thresh­old. This thresh­old varies by fam­i­ly size and com­po­si­tion. In 2018, a fam­i­ly of two adults and two chil­dren were offi­cial­ly liv­ing in pover­ty if their house­hold earn­ings fell below $25,465 annually.

Experts also track extreme pover­ty. In 2018, a fam­i­ly of two adults and two kids were liv­ing in extreme pover­ty if their annu­al house­hold income dipped below $12,732.

Among the near­ly 13 mil­lion kids liv­ing in pover­ty, 44% — about 6.7 mil­lion chil­dren total — are grow­ing up in extreme pover­ty, accord­ing to the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter.

How does liv­ing in pover­ty affect a child?

Grow­ing up poor has wide-rang­ing and long-last­ing reper­cus­sions, accord­ing to researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son.

Pover­ty ele­vates a child’s risk of expe­ri­enc­ing behav­ioral, social and emo­tion­al and health chal­lenges. Child pover­ty also reduces aca­d­e­m­ic out­comes, under­cut­ting a young student’s capac­i­ty to learn, grad­u­ate high school and more.

Select child pover­ty resources from the Casey Foundation

Chil­dren Liv­ing in High-Pover­ty, Low-Oppor­tu­ni­ty Neighborhoods”
Sep­tem­ber 242019

The 2019 KIDS COUNT Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-Being
June 162019

Two-Minute Reviews: Videos Recap 2019 Data Book Findings
June 172019

KIDS COUNT pro­vides reli­able data, tools and rec­om­men­da­tions to leg­is­la­tors, pub­lic offi­cials and child advo­cates to advance poli­cies that ben­e­fit children.

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