Child Poverty in America More Than Doubled in 2022

Updated September 29, 2023 | 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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