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Contact: Michele Kayal
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Child poverty soars during pandemic, but aid to families blunted the impact

Poverty & Family Economics

The child poverty rate climbed above 16% in 2020 — a more than 10% increase over 2019 — according to figures released today, but stimulus and other pandemic emergency aid significantly blunted hardship among children and families.

Pandemic-related job losses, school closures, and other chaotic developments increased the number of children in poverty by more than 1.1 million in 2020, according to figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Today’s figures also show that children are much more likely to be poor than adults — and that children of color experience the very highest rates of poverty, at a rate nearly three times that of white children.

But without the assistance passed in 2020 by Congress — which included two rounds of stimulus payments, and an increase to emergency unemployment benefits and food assistance — many more children would have slipped into poverty. The stimulus payments alone ensured that nearly 3.3 million fewer children lived below the poverty line, according to the data. 

When accounting for government assistance, including emergency pandemic aid, the census found that the rate of child poverty was 9.7%. This rate, called the Supplemental Poverty Measure, was nearly 3 percentage points lower than in 2019, illustrating the outsized impact of aid to children during the year.

Neither of these poverty calculations, however, reflects aid packages passed in 2021, which have already begun reducing child poverty.

Improvements to child-related tax credits and other key provisions contained in the American Rescue Plan and supported by the American Families Act are projected to cut child poverty in half in 2021 aloneand have created momentum to eradicate it altogether. Black, Hispanic and Native children are likely to benefit most, making the provisions a giant step for equity. The effect already is being felt around the country.

Nearly 300 national, state, and local organizations have joined First Focus Campaign for Children to demand the preservation of this progress.

Even before the pandemic, child poverty afflicted nearly 11 million children in the United States, or about 14% of all children. This number is higher than nearly any other industrialized nation, but it underestimates the true level of hardship suffered by children experiencing poverty. The Federal Poverty Level (FPL) is $26,246 for a family of four. 

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