Census Data Makes Clear We Need a National Child Poverty Target

Housing & Homelessness
Nutrition
Poverty & Family Economics
Racial Equity
Tax Policy

Today the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2014 data on income and poverty in the United States and unfortunately, the status quo remains.

21.1 percent, or 15.5 million children, were living in poverty in 2014 (the poverty threshold for a family of four with two children under 18 is $24,008 a year). Due to a change in the Census’ methodology, this rate is not statistically significant from the 2013 estimate.

Children, especially minority and young children, continue to experience higher rates of poverty than for other age groups in our society. They made up 23.3 percent of the total population in 2014, but comprise 33.3 percent of the population living in poverty.

Some figures to note:

  • 37.1 percent of Black children and 31.9 percent of Hispanic children were living in poverty in 2014, compared with 12.3 percent of white children.
  • 23.5 percent of children under age 6 were living in poverty.
  • 9.3 percent of children were living in deep poverty (below 50 percent of the poverty threshold).

And for the first time, the Census released the Supplemental Poverty Data (SPM) on the same day, which portrays the impact of anti-poverty programs in reducing child poverty.

The SPM shows that when taking into account critical programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, refundable tax credits, school lunch, housing subsidies, and child support payments, the child poverty rate would be 16.7 percent.

Therefore while child poverty remains too high, without the safety net it would be much higher.

So where does this leave us? It’s clear that action to reduce child poverty is needed – and while there are some proposed solutions out there, they are often too politicized and fall along partisan lines.

In order to make progress in reducing child poverty, we need a plan that holds lawmakers accountable to coming together and making progress. Establishing a child poverty target is one way to do this, and is not unprecedented.

In the United Kingdom, through the establishment of a child poverty target, the UK cut their child poverty rate (measured in U.S. terms) by 50 percent during the effort’s first decade (1999-2009). By contrast, the U.S. child poverty rate increased by over 20 percent, from 16.2 percent in 2000 to 21.1 percent in 2014.

In the UK, both parties were forced to put forth proposals to address the issue and the target holds both parties accountable for meeting or failing to make progress on the issue. While the Conservative party has been committed to austerity to reduce their budget deficit, they have had to limit cuts to children out of concern that they would be criticized for backtracking on child poverty. Although they are no longer making progress, the opposition parties and the media are holding their feet to the fire on the issue.

Recognizing the need for a national child poverty target, Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) introduced the Child Poverty Reduction Act (H.R. 2048), which sets the goal of cutting child poverty in half in ten years and eliminating it in twenty years.

A child poverty target can serve as a rallying cry for the government and other stakeholders to take concrete steps to meet this target. It institutionalizes the goal of reducing child poverty, and serves as an impetus for public debate around the most effective interventions needed to achieve this target.

This legislation is already supported by 250 organizations. To learn more and add your support, see here. Please also stay tuned for additional resources from First Focus on the recent Census data in the coming days.


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Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on the National Child Poverty Target.

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