Impact of Child Poverty on Educational Success

Children continue to be the poorest age group in America. Child poverty remained at record high levels in 2012, with more than 1 in 5 children identified as poor. This poverty leads to student achievement gaps, reductions in readiness for school, increased absenteeism, and developmental delays. Poor children also are less likely to complete high school - limiting potential employability and economic success in the future, and leading to poverty as an adult.

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Children continue to be the poorest age group in America.
• Poverty is defined as an annual income below $23,492 for a family of four, meaning the family lives on less than $1,958 a month, $452 a week or $64 a day.1
• Child poverty remained at record high levels in 2012, with more than 1 in 5 children identified as poor.2
• Nearly 22 percent of children—16.1 million—were poor in 2012, compared to 13.7 percent of those ages 18-64 and 9.1 percent of those ages 65 and older.3
• Nearly 6 million Hispanic children are poor, making it the largest group of poor children in the country, followed by white, non-Hispanic children.4
• More than 1 in 3 black children and 1 in 3 Hispanic children were poor in 2012, compared to 1 in 8 white, non-Hispanic children.5
• Approximately 1 in 5 black children were living in extreme poverty defined as an annual income of less than half the poverty level, or $11,746 for a family of four.6

Economic class divides American education and poverty increases student achievement gaps.
• Children living in poverty have a higher rate of absenteeism or drop out of school because they need to work or care for family members.7
• Forty percent of children living in poverty do not have the readiness skills to enter primary school.8
• Children living below the poverty line are 1.3 times more likely to have developmental delays or be identified as possessing learning disabilities than those who don’t live in poverty.9
• By the end of the fourth grade, children from low-income families score two years below grade level; by 12th grade that delay has increased to four years below their peers.10
• In nearly every state, the reading gap between lower- and higher-income students increased over the last decade. According to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 83 percent of black students, 81 percent of Latino students, 78 percent of American Indian students, 55 percent of white students and 49 percent of Asian students are not proficient in reading.11

A child’s environment in their early years contributes to success levels later in life and overall well-being.
• Children who are poor from birth to age 2 are 30 percent less likely to complete high school than children who are poor for the first time later in their life.12
• Nearly 30 percent of poor children do not complete high school, which limits future economic success and potential employability, leading to poverty as an adult.13
• Across all reporting states, high school graduation rates ranged from a low of 62 percent in Nevada to a high of 92 percent in New Jersey. For economically disadvantaged students, graduation rates ranged from a low of 53 percent in Nevada to a high of 86 percent in South Dakota.
• In all but one state—South Dakota, the graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students is lower than the graduation rate for all students in the state, ranging from a difference of 2 percentage points in Texas to 21 percentage points in New Jersey and Connecticut. 14
• Those without a high school diploma by age 20 are 50 percent more likely to have inconsistent employment during ages 25-30 and seven times more likely to be persistently poor than those who earn a high school diploma.15

CSG convened a group of state and national experts, the Deeper Learning Focus Group, to develop “A Framework for State Policymakers: Ensure All Students are College- and Career-Ready.” Recommendations from the group could impact disadvantaged children and youth to increase educational outcomes. The group’s conclusions include:
• Policymakers can increase awareness of the incidence of poverty and its consequences.
• School funding should be equitable and adequate with increased coordination of federal and state education programs.
• High-quality early childhood education programs can improve the educational outcomes of all children, but particularly for low-income children.
• Education officials can focus efforts on class size reduction, longer school days, flexible calendars and opportunities for tutoring.
• States may work to attract and retain high-quality teachers in high-poverty classrooms including effective pre-service and professional development programs.


1 Children’s Defense Fund. “Child Poverty in America 2012: National Analysis.” (2012).
2 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Current Population Survey, 2013 Annual Social and Economic Survey, Table POV01” (2013). 
3 Ibid.
4 Children’s Defense Fund. “Child Poverty in America 2012: National Analysis.” (2012).
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Do Something. “11 Facts About Education and Poverty in America,” (2013).
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 The Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Early Reading Proficiency in the United States.” (2014).
12 The Urban Institute. “Child Poverty and Its Lasting Consequence.” (2012).
13 Ibid
14 U.S. Department of Education. "School Year 2010-11 Four-Year Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates." 
15 Urban Institute.