Housing Instability for Young People and Families: New Data, Longstanding Inequities

Updated February 25, 2024 | Posted August 31, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Resident in Atlanta

Each year in the Unit­ed States, mil­lions of young peo­ple and fam­i­lies face hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty and insta­bil­i­ty, includ­ing high cost bur­dens, unsafe liv­ing sit­u­a­tions, over­crowd­ing, fre­quent moves, evic­tions, fore­clo­sures and homelessness.

Hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty is not expe­ri­enced equal­ly. Struc­tur­al inequities and inad­e­quate ser­vice sys­tems have led cer­tain groups to dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly expe­ri­ence hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty or home­less­ness, includ­ing peo­ple of col­or, youth and young adults, immi­grants and those with dis­abil­i­ties or men­tal ill­ness. Among youth and young adults, the fol­low­ing groups face sim­i­lar risks, includ­ing: LGBTQ youth, young par­ents, those with­out a high school diplo­ma and those who have had con­tact with the child wel­fare or juve­nile jus­tice systems. 

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion has expand­ed its hous­ing-focused invest­ments in recent years, sup­porting nation­al and local part­ner­ships to improve hous­ing secu­ri­ty across the coun­try. The Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter also tracks mul­ti­ple mea­sures of hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty for chil­dren, youth and young adults, includ­ing data for racial and eth­nic groups and chil­dren in immi­grant fam­i­lies. The lat­est find­ings are sum­ma­rized below.

Why Hous­ing Is Vital to Young Peo­ple, Fam­i­lies and Communities

Hous­ing is much more than a roof over one’s head. A place to call home is a basic human need — one of safe­ty, sta­bil­i­ty, sup­port and belong­ing. Sta­ble hous­ing roots chil­dren, young peo­ple and fam­i­lies in com­mu­ni­ties, enabling them to access oppor­tu­ni­ties that are nec­es­sary for them to thrive and build a bright future.

Research shows that sta­ble hous­ing is linked to:

  • increased edu­ca­tion­al achieve­ment for chil­dren and improved health out­comes for all ages;
  • greater fam­i­ly sta­bil­i­ty and bet­ter men­tal health for chil­dren, youth and parents;
  • improved sta­bil­i­ty for jobs, social net­works and oth­er fam­i­ly resources, includ­ing receipt of pub­lic ben­e­fits; and

By con­trast, hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty makes it dif­fi­cult for young peo­ple and oth­ers to fin­ish school or gain work expe­ri­ence that leads to a career and greater eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty. It also can caus­e trau­ma for chil­dren, youth and adults that can lead to myr­i­ad chal­lenges, includ­ing strug­gles with men­tal health and over­all well-being. Addi­tion­al­ly, hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty under­mines com­mu­ni­ties, as the peo­ple involved are unable to build strong ties to the places they live. 

High Hous­ing Costs for Fam­i­lies: Progress Stalls, Racial Inequities Persist

Nation­wide, the share of chil­dren in fam­i­lies with high hous­ing cost bur­dens — mean­ing more than 30% of month­ly income is spent on housing—fell in the past decade from 38% in 2012 to 30% in 2019, but the fig­ure has stag­nat­ed since then and remains at 30% as of 2022.

Look­ing at chil­dren in low-income fam­i­lies only, this fig­ure declined from 65% in 2012 to 61% in 2022, or from about 21 mil­lion to 16 mil­lion kids. While this is progress, the major­i­ty of low-income chil­dren con­tin­ue to live in house­holds that spend more than 30% of their lim­it­ed income on hous­ing, leav­ing few­er resources avail­able for essen­tials like food and health care 

Stark racial and eth­nic inequities also con­tin­ue. While all racial and eth­nic groups saw improve­ments on this mea­sure from 2012 to 2019, data source changes in 2020 lim­it any com­par­isons to pri­or years. How­ev­er, the lat­est data from 2022 show endur­ing dis­par­i­ties for chil­dren grow­ing up with high hous­ing cost bur­dens. For instance:

  • Almost two in five (39%) Lati­no chil­dren expe­ri­ence high hous­ing cost bur­dens, well above the nation­al aver­age of 30%.
  • About one in three (34%) kids of two or more races expe­ri­ence high hous­ing cost bur­dens, fol­lowed by 31% of Amer­i­can Indi­an or Alas­ka Native chil­dren and 29% of Asian and Pacif­ic Islander kids.

These find­ings are con­sis­tent with oth­er hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty mea­sures on the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter from the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau’s House­hold Pulse Sur­vey, which indi­cate that:

  • Black fam­i­lies face a high­er risk of evic­tions or fore­clo­sures. In 2021, almost half (45%) of Black fam­i­lies with chil­dren report­ed that they were very like­ly to leave their home or apart­ment soon due to evic­tion or fore­clo­sure, the high­est rate of all racial and eth­nic groups with data and well above the nation­al aver­age (36%). Find­ings were sim­i­lar in 2020.

Putting racial and eth­nic hous­ing dis­par­i­ties into context

For decades, peo­ple of col­or have expe­ri­enced dis­pro­por­tion­ate lev­els of hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty, accord­ing to many sources includ­ing the Fed­er­al Strate­gic Plan to Pre­vent and End Home­less­ness. These inequities have roots in dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies such as redlin­ing and the forced relo­ca­tion of Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native populations. 

Pol­i­cy-dri­ven seg­re­ga­tion and long-term under­in­vest­ment in cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties have led to unequal oppor­tu­ni­ties and a high­er risk of hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty for many peo­ple of col­or. The Fed­er­al Strate­gic Plan also reports that Black Amer­i­cans, Amer­i­can Indi­ans and Alas­ka Natives, Lati­nos and Native Hawai­ians and Pacif­ic Islanders are over­rep­re­sent­ed in the U.S. home­less pop­u­la­tion com­pared to their respec­tive pro­por­tions of the over­all population. 

Some states face steep­er hous­ing chal­lenges and disparities

Four states — Cal­i­for­nia (41%), Hawaii (38%), Flori­da (38%) and New York (38%) — had the high­est per­cent­age of kids bur­dened by high hous­ing costs in 2022. These states are home to near­ly one-fourth of the nation’s chil­dren or more than 17 mil­lion kids total.

Look­ing at these states more closely:

  • More than half of Black chil­dren in Cal­i­for­nia (54%) and Flori­da (52%) are grow­ing up in fam­i­lies with high hous­ing cost burdens.
  • In Cal­i­for­nia, near­ly half (46%) of both Lati­no and Amer­i­can Indi­an or Alas­ka Native kids are liv­ing in house­holds with high hous­ing costs, as well.
  • Hawaii has lim­it­ed data by racial and eth­nic group, but avail­able data show that 38% of chil­dren with two or more races, and 34% of Asian and Pacif­ic Islander kids, are liv­ing in fam­i­lies bur­dened by high hous­ing costs.

Pay­ing too much for rent or a mort­gage lim­its a family’s capac­i­ty to afford oth­er neces­si­ties, such as food, health care, trans­porta­tion and child care. To build eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty for their fam­i­lies, par­ents and care­givers need both afford­able hous­ing options and jobs that pay a liv­ing wage. Since obtain­ing both is often out of reach, many low-income fam­i­lies strug­gle to meet their basic needs. In six states, more than 70% of kids in low-income fam­i­lies expe­ri­ence high hous­ing cost bur­dens: Mary­land (71%), New York (71%), Cal­i­for­nia (74%), Mass­a­chu­setts (74%), Con­necti­cut (75%) and New Jer­sey (80%), accord­ing to 2022 data.

Kids in Immi­grant Fam­i­lies Are at High­er Risk of Hous­ing Instability

Chil­dren in immi­grant fam­i­lies are more like­ly to grow up in house­holds with high hous­ing cost bur­dens, at 37% com­pared to 28% of kids in U.S.-born fam­i­lies in 2022, although this gap has nar­rowed over the past decade and rates have declined for both groups.

This rate varies by state, as well. In New York, near­ly half (46%) of kids in immi­grant fam­i­lies were liv­ing in house­holds grap­pling with high hous­ing costs, the high­est rate in the coun­try among states with avail­able data in 2022. At the oth­er end of the spec­trum, Mis­souri and Wis­con­sin had less than half of New York’s rate, with just 22% of kids in immi­grant fam­i­lies expe­ri­enc­ing hous­ing cost burdens.

Chil­dren in immi­grant fam­i­lies are also far more like­ly to live in crowd­ed hous­ing than kids in U.S.-born fam­i­lies. (“Crowd­ed hous­ing” is defined as more than one per­son per room, includ­ing liv­ing rooms, din­ing rooms, etc.) This dis­par­i­ty has been con­sis­tent since the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter began track­ing this mea­sure two decades ago. In 2022, just over one in four (26%) kids in immi­grant fam­i­lies lived in crowd­ed house­holds, close to three times the rate (10%) of their peers in U.S.-born families.

Fam­i­lies may be forced to move in with oth­ers when they lack afford­able hous­ing options or they are not able to pay their rent or mort­gage for oth­er rea­sons. Liv­ing in crowd­ed hous­ing is linked to increased stress, sleep dif­fi­cul­ties and health prob­lems.

Over 4 Mil­lion Youth and Young Adults Expe­ri­ence Homelessness

Hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty among youth and young adults is an urgent nation­al prob­lem. The Casey Foundation’s recent brief on Pre­vent­ing and End­ing Youth Home­less­ness in Amer­i­ca report­ed that more than 4 mil­lion young peo­ple expe­ri­ence some form of home­less­ness in a giv­en year, includ­ing about 700,000 teens ages 13 to 17 and 3.5 mil­lion young adults ages 18 to 25, accord­ing to Chapin Hall at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago. 

These youth are exposed to volatil­i­ty and trau­ma dur­ing an impor­tant devel­op­men­tal peri­od, between ages 14 to 24, in which young peo­ple are matur­ing phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly and ide­al­ly learn­ing how to build rela­tion­ships and life skills. The longer youth expe­ri­ence unsta­ble hous­ing, the more like­ly they will go through greater lev­els of adver­si­ty and trau­ma, with impli­ca­tions for their long-term well-being. 

It is crit­i­cal to address hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty and pre­vent home­less­ness before it occurs. The KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter sheds light on the sta­tus of hous­ing sta­bil­i­ty for youth and young adults:

  • Nation­al­ly, more than one in four (28%) young peo­ple ages 14 to 24 live in house­holds with high hous­ing cost bur­dens, accord­ing to the lat­est data from 20172021. This is an improve­ment from 35% in 20062010, but fig­ures have remained around 28% since 20152019.

Ensur­ing All Chil­dren, Youth and Fam­i­lies Have Safe, Sta­ble Homes

Many fac­tors have con­tributed to the hous­ing prob­lems and dis­par­i­ties out­lined above, includ­ing decades of increas­ing eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty, dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies, the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, inef­fec­tive ser­vice sys­tems, ris­ing hous­ing costs and a short­age of afford­able hous­ing.

Youth and fam­i­ly hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty can be effec­tive­ly addressed, if pri­or­i­tized, by pol­i­cy­mak­ers, fun­ders, ser­vice providers and com­mu­ni­ties. Inter­ven­tions and invest­ments should focus on pre­ven­tion, equi­ty, cross-sys­tem part­ner­ships, hous­ing assis­tance and increas­ing the sup­ply of afford­able hous­ing, among oth­er strate­gies. See the fol­low­ing pub­li­ca­tions for spe­cif­ic recommendations:

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