Child Poverty in America More Than Doubled in 2022

Updated on September 29, 2023, and originally posted September 20, 2021, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Child on swing with mom pushing her

The U.S. Cen­sus Bureau recent­ly released the updat­ed 2022 mea­sures of pover­ty: the offi­cial pover­ty mea­sure and the Sup­ple­men­tal Pover­ty Mea­sure (SPM). The offi­cial pover­ty mea­sure only con­sid­ers fam­i­lies’ pre-tax cash earn­ings, while the SPM con­sid­ers a broad­er set of resources, such as in-kind ben­e­fits, safe­ty net ben­e­fits and, when applic­a­ble, stim­u­lus pay­ments. The SPM allows experts to bet­ter assess the effec­tive­ness of inter­ven­tions to reduce child poverty.

In 2022, the offi­cial pover­ty mea­sure thresh­old was $29,678 for a fam­i­ly of two adults and two chil­dren. Fam­i­lies can earn well over this amount and still not make ends meet, espe­cial­ly in high-cost areas. Unlike the offi­cial pover­ty mea­sure, the SPM fac­tors in region­al vari­a­tion in cost of liv­ing. For all these rea­sons, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion advo­cates using the SPM.

What Is the Cur­rent Child Pover­ty Rate in the Unit­ed States?

In 2022, the SPM child pover­ty rate jumped to 12%, more than twice the 2021 rate of 5%. This equates to about 9 mil­lion kids in 2022 liv­ing in fam­i­lies who do not have enough resources for basic needs such as food, hous­ing and utilities.

See the SPM child pover­ty rate in your state

The high­est rates of pover­ty occur for the youngest chil­dren — under age 5 — kids in sin­gle-moth­er fam­i­lies, chil­dren of col­or and kids in immi­grant families.

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The Effects and Cost of Child Poverty

Grow­ing up in pover­ty is one of the great­est threats to healthy child devel­op­ment. The effects of eco­nom­ic hard­ship, par­tic­u­lar­ly deep and per­sis­tent pover­ty, can dis­rupt children’s cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment, phys­i­cal and men­tal health, edu­ca­tion­al suc­cess and oth­er aspects of life. These effects rever­ber­ate through­out adult­hood. Researchers esti­mate the total U.S. cost of child pover­ty ranges from $800 bil­lion to $1.1 tril­lion per year based on lost pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and increased health care and oth­er expenditures.

The alarm­ing rise in child pover­ty in 2022 revers­es the progress made in the past two years, with mil­lions of chil­dren slip­ping back into pover­ty. Their health and well-being cur­rent­ly is at risk. Now more than ever, chil­dren need secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty. Deci­sions by pol­i­cy­mak­ers today will have last­ing impacts on children’s lives.

What Is the Main Cause of Child Poverty?

Child pover­ty is con­nect­ed to fam­i­ly pover­ty. While there is no sin­gle cause of pover­ty, fam­i­lies may fall into finan­cial hard­ship due to a job loss, expens­es that become too high — such as hous­ing, health care and gro­ceries — a tran­si­tion from a two-par­ent to a sin­gle-par­ent house­hold or anoth­er desta­bi­liz­ing event. Among chil­dren and fam­i­lies of col­or, the pic­ture is fur­ther com­pli­cat­ed by gen­er­a­tions-long inequities and dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies and prac­tices that have led to income inequal­i­ty and dis­parate access to eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties and resources.

Neigh­bor­hoods mat­ter, too. Com­mu­ni­ties with con­cen­trat­ed pover­ty, which are often racial­ly seg­re­gat­ed, tend to have few­er job oppor­tu­ni­ties for par­ents and youth, under­fund­ed schools and few­er resources in gen­er­al. When chil­dren grow up in these neigh­bor­hoods, it can take gen­er­a­tions to move out of poverty.

Addi­tion­al­ly, larg­er eco­nom­ic forces, labor mar­kets and pub­lic poli­cies affect child pover­ty. For instance, parental unem­ploy­ment and child pover­ty increase dur­ing eco­nom­ic reces­sions, and labor mar­ket fac­tors — such as min­i­mum wage lev­els — affect pover­ty rates.

Demo­graph­ics play a role as well, with old­er, more edu­cat­ed par­ents gen­er­al­ly able to obtain high­er wages. Child pover­ty rates are also affect­ed by the strength of gov­ern­ment safe­ty net pro­grams, such as the extend­ed child tax cred­it dis­cussed below.

Where Does Child Pover­ty in Amer­i­ca Exist?

Every state in Amer­i­ca has chil­dren liv­ing in pover­ty, but high­er rates gen­er­al­ly exist in the south­ern region of the coun­try (see map below) as well as in rur­al areas and urban neigh­bor­hoods of con­cen­trat­ed poverty.

  • The Dis­trict of Colum­bia has the high­est SPM child pover­ty rate in the coun­try, at 15%, fol­lowed by Flori­da and New York, both 13%, accord­ing to 20202022 data avail­able in the KIDS COUNT® Data Center.
  • Six states share the low­est SPM child pover­ty rate in the nation, at 4%: Iowa, Maine, Min­neso­ta, Nebras­ka, Utah and Wisconsin.

  • Approx­i­mate­ly 8% of kids live in neigh­bor­hoods of con­cen­trat­ed pover­ty, accord­ing to a report by the Foun­da­tion. Black and Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native chil­dren are sev­en times more like­ly to live in these com­mu­ni­ties com­pared to white kids, and Lati­no chil­dren are about five times more likely.
  • Accord­ing to the USDA Eco­nom­ic Research Ser­vice’s Rur­al Pover­ty & Well-Being report, in 2019, about 21% of chil­dren in non-metro (rur­al) areas were con­sid­ered poor com­pared to 16% of kids in metro areas. The same report looked at coun­ties with high child pover­ty rates of 40% or above dur­ing 20152019 and found that 127 of the 138 coun­ties were rur­al, large­ly in the south­ern region and con­cen­trat­ed in Geor­gia, Ken­tucky, Mis­sis­sip­pi and Texas. 

Pover­ty in Amer­i­ca Dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly Affects Chil­dren of Color

For decades, chil­dren and fam­i­lies of col­or have borne a dis­pro­por­tion­ate bur­den of pover­ty in the Unit­ed States, and the lat­est Cen­sus SPM pover­ty data show a con­tin­u­a­tion — and wors­en­ing — of this sober­ing trend. 

  • Lati­no chil­dren: One in 5 (20%) now live in pover­ty accord­ing to the 2022 SPM, a sub­stan­tial spike from 8% in 2021 and the largest increase of all racial and eth­nic groups with avail­able esti­mates. (Note that Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native child pover­ty rates showed an even big­ger jump from 7% to 25%, but the 2022 esti­mate was con­sid­ered unre­li­able due to a large mar­gin of error.)
  • Black chil­dren: The pover­ty rate rose by a con­cern­ing 10 per­cent­age points, from 8% in 2021 to 18% in 2022, the sec­ond-largest increase.
  • Two or more races: The SPM pover­ty rate also jumped from 5% to 12% for these children.
  • Asian and Pacif­ic Islander chil­dren: The pover­ty rate increased from 6% to 10% for this broad group as well. How­ev­er, the cat­e­go­ry of Asian and Pacif­ic Islander” rep­re­sents dozens of high­ly diverse pop­u­la­tions, and dis­ag­gre­gat­ed data from oth­er indi­ca­tors show that wide socioe­co­nom­ic dis­par­i­ties per­sist among these dif­fer­ent populations.
  • White chil­dren: This group has the low­est pover­ty rate, at 7% in 2022, up from 3% in 2021

How to Reduce Child Pover­ty in America

Ade­quate­ly invest­ing in safe­ty net pro­grams — par­tic­u­lar­ly the expand­ed child tax cred­it — is one of the most effec­tive ways to reduce child pover­ty. Accord­ing to Cen­sus Bureau data, in 2021, expand­ed tax cred­its and stim­u­lus pay­ments lift­ed 5.2 mil­lion chil­dren out of pover­ty. That year, the nation was look­ing at a pol­i­cy suc­cess sto­ry: America’s SPM child pover­ty rate had dropped by half, from 10% in 2020 to a his­toric low of 5%. The Cen­sus Bureau report­ed that the 2021 expand­ed child tax cred­it (CTC) alone removed 2.9 mil­lion kids from pover­ty, one-third of whom were under age 6. These poli­cies clear­ly worked.

How­ev­er, the expand­ed tax cred­its and pay­ments were tem­po­rary pan­dem­ic-relief mea­sures, and when they expired in 2022, the num­ber of kids in pover­ty soared by more than 5 million.

2021 Child Tax Cred­it Expansion

In addi­tion to lift­ing mil­lions of kids out of pover­ty, the 2021 expand­ed CTC cor­rect­ed a prob­lem in the exist­ing CTC that allowed high-income fam­i­lies to receive the full tax cred­it while pre­vent­ing low-income fam­i­lies from receiv­ing the same. In oth­er words, fam­i­lies with the great­est needs received the least assis­tance. Now that the expand­ed CTC has expired and has gone back to its pre­vi­ous ver­sion, and the full cred­it is no longer avail­able to all low-income families.

Dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduc­ing child pover­ty in Amer­i­ca is an achiev­able pol­i­cy goal. Nat­u­ral­ly, the tem­po­rary pan­dem­ic relief mea­sures were not meant to be long-term poli­cies. But now that we know what works to reduce child pover­ty, law­mak­ers can move for­ward with con­fi­dence to imple­ment effec­tive, last­ing solu­tions. Strong safe­ty net pro­grams are essen­tial to ensur­ing that all chil­dren have equi­table access to the oppor­tu­ni­ties and resources they need to thrive.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers should pri­or­i­tize expand­ing the child tax cred­it, strength­en­ing oth­er safe­ty net pro­grams to meet the basic needs of all low-income chil­dren and address­ing root caus­es of income inequal­i­ty and pover­ty dis­par­i­ties by race.

Access More of the Foundation’s Child and Fam­i­ly Pover­ty Resources

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