Child Poverty and Family Income
Childhood poverty has both immediate and lasting negative effects. Children in low-income families fare more poorly than children in more affluent families in the areas of economic security, health, and education. Children living in families that are poor are more likely than children living in other families to have difficulty in school, to become teen parents, and, as adults, to earn less and be unemployed more. The child poverty rate provides important information about the percentage of U.S. children whose current life circumstances are hard and whose futures are potentially limited as a result of their family's low income.
- In 1996, 20% of American children lived in families with cash incomes below the poverty line.
- The percentage of children in poverty has stayed near or slightly above 20% since 1981.1
- Children under age 6 are more often found in families with incomes below the poverty line than children ages 6 to 17. In 1996, 23% of children under age 6 lived in poverty, compared to 18% of older children.
- Children with two married parents are much less likely to be living in poverty than children living only with their mothers. In 1996, 10% of children in two-parent families were living in poverty, compared to 49% in female-householder families.
- This contrast by family structure is especially pronounced among certain racial and ethnic minorities. For example, in 1996, 14% of black children in married-couple families lived in poverty, compared to 58% of black children in female-householder families. Twenty-nine percent of Hispanic children in married-couple families lived in poverty, compared to 67% in female-householder families.
- Most children in poverty are white and non-Hispanic. However, the proportion of black or Hispanic children in poverty is much higher than the proportion for white, non-Hispanic children. In 1996, 10% of white, non-Hispanic children lived in poverty, compared to 40% of black children and 40% of Hispanic children.
- In 1996, 8% of all children lived in families with incomes less than half the poverty level, or $8,018 a year for a family of four, while 31% of children lived in families with incomes less than 150% of the poverty level, or $24,054 a year for a family of four.
The full distribution of the income of children's families is important, not just the percentage in poverty. Knowing that more and more children live in affluent families tells us that a growing proportion of America's children enjoy economic well-being. The growing gap between rich and poor children suggests that poor children may experience more relative deprivation even if the percentage of poor children is holding steady.
- In 1996, children living in families with medium income made up the largest share of children by income group (34%). There were similar percentages of children living with low income and with high income, 23% and 24%, respectively.
- Since 1980, the percentage of children living in families with medium income has fallen from 41% to 34% in 1996, while the percentage of children living in families with high income and the percentage of children in extreme poverty have risen, from 17% to 24% and from 7% to 8%, respectively. The data indicate that there has been an increase in income disparity among children.
1. The child poverty rate for 1981 was 19.5%. Source: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (www.childstats.gov), America's Children 1998.