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

Updated January 21, 2020 | 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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