New Child Poverty Data Illustrate the Powerful Impact of America’s Safety Net Programs

Posted September 20, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Child on swing with mom pushing her

The U.S. Cen­sus Bureau has released the offi­cial pover­ty mea­sure and 2020 Sup­ple­men­tal Pover­ty Mea­sure (SPM) from the Cur­rent Pop­u­la­tion Sur­vey Annu­al Social and Eco­nom­ic Sup­ple­ments. These num­bers pro­vide an ear­ly look at how the pan­dem­ic has impact­ed life — and child­hood — across the country.

Accord­ing to the offi­cial pover­ty mea­sure, 11.6 mil­lion chil­dren — 16% of all kids nation­wide — were liv­ing in pover­ty in 2020. This total has increased by more than one mil­lion chil­dren since 2019.

The data also reveal that pover­ty rates remain dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly high for chil­dren of col­or. Nation­wide, Black (28%), Amer­i­can Indi­an (25%) and Lati­no (23%) kids are more like­ly to grow up poor when com­pared to their non-His­pan­ic white (10%) and Asian and Pacif­ic Islander (9%) peers.

While the offi­cial pover­ty mea­sure defines a family’s income as their pre­tax cash earn­ings, the SPM con­sid­ers a broad­er set of resources, includ­ing in-kind ben­e­fits (e.g., food and hous­ing assis­tance), safe­ty net ben­e­fits (e.g., the earned income tax cred­it) and stim­u­lus pay­ments. This expand­ed view enables experts to gauge the effec­tive­ness of inter­ven­tions — such as tax cred­its and trans­fers — in alle­vi­at­ing child poverty.

The 2020 SPM sug­gests that fed­er­al gov­ern­ment stim­u­lus pay­ments and refund­able tax cred­its lift­ed 4.6 mil­lion chil­dren out of pover­ty. Per this esti­mate, just 10% of chil­dren lived in pover­ty in 2020 — a decline of three per­cent­age points and 2 mil­lion few­er chil­dren when com­pared to 2019.

Since its intro­duc­tion in 2011, the SPM rate has always risen high­er than the offi­cial pover­ty rate. This year — for the first time ever — the reverse is true: The offi­cial pover­ty rate is six per­cent­age points high­er than the SPM rate. This dif­fer­ence high­lights the impor­tance of safe­ty net pro­grams in lift­ing chil­dren and their fam­i­lies out of poverty.

More on child pover­ty from the Casey Foundation

Eco­nom­ic well-being indi­ca­tors on the KIDS COUNT® Data Center

Pover­ty Talk: Basic Terms You Need to Know

State Fact Sheets: How Are Fam­i­lies Using the Child Tax Credit?

Mea­sur­ing Access to Oppor­tu­ni­ty in the Unit­ed States

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