Press Releases

Contact: Michele Kayal
Phone: 202-866-0648

Alarming 2018 Census data spurs new call for national poverty targets

Poverty & Family Economics

CONTACT: Michele Kayal,, call/text: 703-919-8778

WASHINGTON — Data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau illustrates the failure of our government to lead on child poverty, which remains higher in the United States than in nearly all similarly developed countries.

The U.S. Census Bureau found that 16.2 percent of children (11.9 million) were living in poverty in 2018 and that children are 54.4 percent more likely to live in poverty than adults.

The figures represent a marginal 1.2 percent decrease from 2017, the result of anti-poverty measures that are effective but severely underfunded or have limited eligibility. Programs including the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the National School Lunch Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), federal housing assistance, and others have successfully lifted millions of children out of poverty, despite subsisting on meagre annual budgets. With some structural changes and proper funding, these programs could make a larger dent in the shameful rate of child poverty in America.

The National Academy of Sciences’ landmark study on child poverty released in February 2019 makes clear that we have the tools to eradicate child poverty. All that is needed is the political will to deploy them. The study, called A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, outlines policy and program changes that, if implemented, would reduce child poverty by half within a decade.

Progress is possible. It is time to act. The U.S. Child Poverty Action Group, a partnership of child-focused organizations dedicated to eradicating child poverty, recently launched End Child Poverty US, a campaign to cut child poverty in half within a decade by setting a national target. Similar approaches in peer countries have proven the impact of targets. The United Kingdom cut its child poverty rate in half between 1999 and 2009 and Canada is on track to cut its child poverty rate in half in less than a decade after establishing an expanded child allowance in 2016.

Child advocates weighed in on the Census data:

“These figures show that anti-poverty programs work. We need to invest much more — not less — in our children and to make cutting child poverty a national priority.”

  • Bruce Lesley, President, First Focus on Children

“Every child deserves a future, and this new data shows that for 12 million children in America, they’re still missing out. Save the Children and Save the Children Action Network will stand up for children – and hold our federal government accountable and ensure they make children the priority they deserve to be. Setting a national poverty target and putting in the hard work to achieve it will have incredible dividends for the future of children – the future we all share.”

  • Mark Shriver, Senior Vice President, U.S. Programs, Save the Children & CEO, Save the Children Action Network

“Today’s news that 2,046,000 infants and toddlers in the U.S. were living in poverty in 2018 is a cry for help from our nation’s future. During the first three years, our brains develop faster than at any later point in life, making every second a baby or toddler lives in poverty a second that his or her brain development and future success is threatened. Doing right by our infants and toddlers will require policies based on sound science and budgets that make babies a priority. We know that strong, nurturing relationships help build healthy brains and can buffer children from the harmful stress caused by poverty. When we ensure families have access to social and economic resources, they are better able to provide their babies with the nurturing experiences and basic needs required to thrive.”

  • Myra Jones-Taylor, Chief Policy Officer, ZERO TO THREE

“We can’t have a strong country without strong and healthy children, and eradicating child poverty is critical to ensuring opportunity for all of our children. Our nation’s federal nutrition programs are an essential ingredient to accomplishing this. They boost academic achievement and health outcomes and increase the chance that a child will escape the cycle of poverty. Continued leadership from elected officials at all levels of government, practical bipartisan policies, and the hard work happening every day from schools and organizations on the front lines are what will get us across the finish line in ending childhood hunger and poverty in this country.”

  • Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President, Share Our Strength

“The current child poverty rate is simply unacceptable. For decades, federal programs like WIC have stretched their resources to make the greatest impact on health and nutrition outcomes for low-income families. Early interventions like WIC are proven to have significant long-term effects, helping children grow into healthy and productive adults. Our country must invest in evidence-based programs like WIC that curb poverty and ensure children the opportunity to realize their full potential.”

  • Reverend Douglas Greenaway, President and CEO, National WIC Association

“As a member of the study committee that worked with the NAS to develop the child poverty report, I was reminded that it is possible to reduce poverty and that we have done so in the past: The United States nearly cut its child poverty rate in half between 1967 and 2016. Demographics, the economy, the labor market, and changing government policies all influence child poverty rates, and sound research shows that certain policies and programs have been successful in reducing poverty. It is important to note, however, that contextual issues like health, access to programs and services, racial and ethnic discrimination, involvement with the criminal justice system, and neighborhood conditions are added barriers to poverty reduction. These issues, too, must be addressed to ensure that all children and families benefit.”

  • Christine James-Brown, President and CEO, Child Welfare League of America

“The consequences of child poverty last a child’s entire life; poor children are more likely to fall behind the developmental norms for their age, to drop out of school, to have worse health as an adolescent and adult, and to have poor employment outcomes. When child poverty is this widespread, it puts our economy and our future at risk.”

  •  Deborah Stein, Network Director, Partnership for America’s Children

“Despite a decade of economic growth and low unemployment, families continue to live in poverty, leaving children without basic necessities. This latest data show that our country fails to provide all children with the support they need to reach their full potential. Right now, one in three families struggles to get enough diapers to keep their baby clean, dry and healthy. Diaper need puts children’s health at risk and increases medical expenses. And, without diapers parents miss work or school. The National Diaper Bank Network looks forward to continuing our work with the Child Poverty Action Group and leaders across the country as we make the choice to investment in all of our communities so that all our neighbors, friends and families have the basic necessities required to thrive.” 

  • Joanne Goldblum, CEO, National Diaper Bank Network