child poverty

"Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me;
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me......."    
Luke 9:47

More than 16 million children in the United States – 22% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $24,250 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, nearly 45% of children live in low-income families.

Most of these children have parents who work, but low wages and unstable employment leave their families struggling to make ends meet. Poverty can impede children’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor health and mental health. Risks are greatest for children who experience poverty when they are young and/or experience deep and persistent poverty.

Research is clear that poverty is the single greatest threat to children’s well-being. But effective public policies – to make work pay for low-income parents and to provide high-quality early care and learning experiences for their children – can make a difference. Investments in the most vulnerable children are also critical.

The goal of the National Center for Children in Poverty’s (NCCP) is to help policymakers create a work support system that enables all full-time workers to provide for their families and ensures that earning more always improves a family’s financial bottom line.

Low wages mean that millions of parents work full-time, year-round and yet struggle to provide even minimum day-to-day necessities for their families. Government “work supports”—such as earned income tax credits, child care subsidies, health insurance, food stamps, and housing assistance—can help. These benefits encourage, support, and reward work, helping families close the gap between low wages and basic expenses.

In practice, however, few families receive all of the benefits for which they are eligible, and even multiple supports are often not enough to enable working families to make ends meet. Moreover, work supports are typically means-tested, and families tend to lose benefits before they can get by on earnings alone. In some cases, small increases in earnings can trigger sharp reductions in benefits, leaving families no better off—or even worse off—than before. In short, working more doesn’t always pay.

Given that official poverty statistics are deeply flawed, the National Center for Children in Poverty uses “low income” as one measure of economic hardship. Low income is defined as having income below twice the federal poverty level — the amount of income that research suggests is needed on average for families to meet their basic needs. About 45 percent of the nation’s children — nearly 33 million  — live in families with low incomes, that is, incomes below twice the official poverty level (for 2016, about $48,500 for a family of four).

Although families with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty level are not officially classified as poor, many face material hardships and financial pressures similar to families with incomes below the poverty level. Missed rent payments, utility shut offs, inadequate access to health care, unstable child care arrangements, and running out of food are not uncommon for such families.

Low-income rates for young children are higher than those for older children — 49 percent of children under age six live in low-income families, compared to 43 percent of children over age six. Parents of younger children tend to be younger and to have less education and work experience than parents of older children, so their earnings are typically lower.
Economic hardship and other types of deprivation can have profound effects on children's development and their prospects for the future — and therefore on the nation as a whole. Low family income can impede children's cognitive development and their ability to learn. It can contribute to behavioral, social, and emotional problems. And it can cause and exacerbate poor child health as well. The children at greatest risk are those who experience economic hardship when they are young and children who experience severe and chronic hardship.

It is not simply the amount of income that matters for children. The instability and unpredictability of low-wage work can lead to fluctuating family incomes. Children whose families are in volatile or deteriorating financial circumstances are more likely to experience negative effects than children whose families are in stable economic situations.

The negative effects of low income on young children are troubling in their own right, but they are also cause for concern because they are associated with difficulties later in life — dropping out of school, poor adolescent and adult health, and poor employment outcomes. Stable, nurturing, and enriching environments in the early years help create a sturdy foundation for later school achievement, economic productivity, and responsible citizenship.

Parents need financial resources as well as human and social capital (basic life skills, education, social networks) to provide the experiences, resources, and services that are essential for children to thrive and to grow into healthy, productive adults — high-quality health care, adequate housing, stimulating early learning programs, good schools, money for books, and other enriching activities. Parents who face chronic economic hardship are much more likely than their more affluent peers to experience severe stress and depression — both of which are linked to poor social and emotional outcomes for children.

In CT, 15.5% of children live in poverty. That's 114,000 kids!!!

In Connecticut, there are 437,567 families, with 786,832 children. Among these children, 29 percent (230,425) live in families that are low-income, defined as income below twice the federal poverty level (nationally, 45 percent of children live in low-income families). Young children are particularly likely to live in low-income families.

Low wages and a lack of higher education contribute to families having insufficient incomes. Nationally, 48 percent of low-income children have at least one parent who works full-time, year-round; in Connecticut, the figure is 39 percent.

Parents without a college education often struggle to earn enough to support a family, but only 34 percent of adults in Connecticut have a bachelor’s degree. A substantial portion of children in Connecticut whose parents only have a high school diploma—56 percent—are low income.

Children of foreign-born parents are also more likely to be low income than children of native-born parents. 

Updated: February 05, 2016

How many children under age 18 years in the United States live in low-income families?

There are more than 72 million children under age 18 years in the United States.

•    44 percent – 31.4 million – live in low-income families
•    21 percent – 15.4 million – live in poor families

Note: Above low income is defined as at or above 200% of the federal poverty threshold (FPT), poor is defined as below 100% of FPT, and near poor is between 100% and 199% of the FPT. The low-income category includes both the poor and the near poor.

Has the percentage of children living in low-income and poor families changed over time?

The percentage of children living in low-income families (both poor and near poor) has been on the rise—increasing from 39 percent in 2008 to 44 percent in 2014 (Figure 2). During this time period, the overall number of children of all ages increased by less than one percent, while the numbers who were low income and poor increased by 10 percent and 18 percent, respectively (Table 1).

How do children compare to the rest of the population?

The percentage of all children under age 18 years in low-income families surpasses that of adults. In addition, children are more than twice as likely as adults 65 years and older to live in poor families (Figure 2).

Does the percentage of children in low-income families vary by children's age?

The overall percentages of children under 18 years who live in low-income and poor families are 44 percent and 21 percent respectively, yet there is variation by age group. Younger children are more likely to live in low-income and poor families than older children (Figure 4).

•    47 percent of children under age 3 years—5.3 million—live in low-income families
•    47 percent of children age 3 through 5 years—5.6 million—live in low-income families
•    45 percent of children age 6 through 11 years—10.8 million—live in low-income families
•    40 percent of children age 12 through 17 years—9.7 million—live in low-income families

Does the percentage of children in low-income families vary by race/ethnicity?

As Figure 5 illustrates, the percentages of low-income and poor children under 18 years vary by race and ethnicity: whites comprise the largest share of all low-income children (37 percent, 11.4 million) while Hispanics make up the largest share of poor children (36 percent, 5.6 million).5

Black, American Indian, and Hispanic children are disproportionately low income and poor (Figure 6).

•    65 percent of black children—6.3 million—live in low-income families
•    62 percent of American Indian children—0.3 million—live in low-income families
•    62 percent of Hispanic children—10.9 million—live in low-income families
•    31 percent of white children—11.4 million—live in low-income families
•    30 percent of Asian children—1.0 million—live in low-income families
•    43 percent of children of some other race—1.5 million—live in low-income families

Connecticut Voices for Children


All children should have an equitable opportunity to achieve their full potential regardless of race, family income, or where they live. Strategic investments in the health and education of children are essential to the state’s long-term economic well being.

Thriving Families

•    Protect eligibility, benefit levels, and access to high quality health care through the HUSKY health insurance program.
•    Ensure that parents of children on HUSKY maintain access to affordable and quality health coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
•    Improve access to behavioral health care for families and children.

Educational Success

•    Support adequate and equitable state funding of public education.
•    Protect funding of and access to high quality early care and education for all Connecticut children.

Economic Opportunity

•    Restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 30% of the federal EITC to make work pay.
•    Prioritize property tax relief to promote housing affordability and stability.
•    Require regular review of existing and new business tax subsidies to ensure transparency, consistency, and equity.

Youth Opportunity

•    Reduce the use of school discipline practices that remove children and youth from the classroom, with particular attention to the disproportionate exclusion of students of color, students from low income families, and students identified with special educational needs.
•    Remove barriers that limit the ability of youth in state care to develop lifelong relationships with caring adults and experience the full range of normal childhood activities.
•    Ensure that youth involved in the juvenile justice system receive services in therapeutic and rehabilitative settings.