Childhood Poverty

The number of poor children has been on the rise for the past 10 years, although those increases vary across state and racial and ethnic lines.  Higher childhood poverty rates mean bigger costs to states, including future health and criminal justice expenses.  

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The number of poor children has been on the rise for the past 10 years, although those increases vary across state and racial and ethnic lines. Higher childhood poverty rates mean bigger costs to states, including future health and criminal justice expenses.

Childhood poverty rates declined throughout most of the 1990s, but have been rising again since 2000.
  • According to the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University,1 more than 15 million children in the U.S.—or 21 percent of all those under age 18—live in households below the federal poverty level, set at $22,500 for a family of four.
  • Between 2000 and 2009, the number of children living in poverty jumped by 33 percent, or 3.8 million children. Nine percent of children live in households that earn 50 percent or less of the poverty level, which is considered to be “extremely poor.”
  • From 2000 to 2009, childhood poverty rates dropped in seven states, with West Virginia (a 2 percent drop) and Louisiana (a 3 percent drop) seeing the biggest improvements.
  • Over the same time period, rates in five states remained the same, while rates increased in 38 states. Increases in the childhood poverty rate ranged from a low of 1 percent in Connecticut and Hawaii to a high of 9 percent in Michigan and 7 percent in Colorado.
There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in childhood poverty rates, as well as differences across states.
  • Twelve percent of white children live in households at or below the poverty level—a rate nearly three times less than that of black children. 
  • Thirty-six percent of black children live in households at or below the poverty level. In the 10 most populous states, child poverty rates among black children range from a low of 30 percent in California and New York to a high of 46 percent in Ohio and Michigan.
  • Thirty-four percent of American Indian children, 33 percent of Hispanic children, 15 percent of Asian children and 24 percent of children identified as some other race live in poor families.
  • Childhood poverty rates are highest in the South, with Mississippi (31 percent), Arkansas (27 percent) and Kentucky (26 percent) having the highest rates in the country in 2009. New Hampshire (11 percent), Connecticut (12 percent) and Maryland (12 percent) have the lowest rates of childhood poverty in the U.S.
Childhood poverty negatively affects economic and social outcomes with big costs to states.
  • According to the Population Research Bureau,2 childhood poverty leads to negative health, social and economic consequences that follow children into adulthood.
  • Compared to other children, poor children are less healthy, have lower educational achievement and are more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system. In adulthood, those children are less likely to attend college or maintain steady employment.
  • At 4 years old, children in poverty are 18 months below what is normal for their age group in reading and math—a gap that is still present at age 10.3
  • Childhood poverty costs the U.S. $500 billion every year in lost earnings, involvement with the criminal justice system and in costs associated with poor health outcomes, according to a 2007 study4 by the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan.
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation, using Poverty Center figures, calculates that in 14 states, child poverty comes at an annual cost of more than $10 billion. California has the highest cost at $63.9 billion, followed by Texas ($57.5 billion) and New York ($33.4 billion). Even in Wyoming, the smallest state, childhood poverty costs the state about $500 million a year.

References:

1 The National Center for Children in Poverty. “Who Are America’s Poor Children?
 
2 The Population Reference Bureau. “State-by-State Costs of Childhood Poverty in the U.S.”
 
3 The National Center for Children in Poverty. “Promoting Effective Early Learning.”
 
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