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Contact: Michele Kayal
Phone: 703-919-8778

New census figures demonstrate success of anti-poverty measures

Poverty & Family Economics

Numbers released today by the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that child poverty dipped nearly 2 percentage points in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout likely have erased any real gains.

Using the Official Poverty Measure, the pre-pandemic data show that child poverty decreased 1.8 percentage points between 2018 and 2019, from 16.2 percent of U.S. children (11.9 million children) to 14.4 percent (10.5 million children) in 2019 — the lowest child poverty rate since 1973. 

The figures still leave the United States with a higher rate of child poverty than most of its peer nations. U.S. children as a whole remain 54% more likely to live in poverty than adults. Due to longstanding systemic and institutional racism, Black and Hispanic children continue to disproportionately experience poverty. Nearly 26% of Black children live in poverty, making them more than twice as likely to experience poverty than white children, only 12% of whom live in poverty. Nearly 21% of Hispanic children live in poverty. 

Today’s data demonstrate the success of anti-poverty programs. Using the alternative but more accurate Supplemental Poverty Measure, which considers income derived from assistance programs such as family tax credits and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 12.5% of children were living in poverty in 2019 compared to 13.7% in 2018. Tax credits lifted 4 million children out of poverty last year, with another million elevated by SNAP. 

Despite the optimistic poverty figures, the number of children suffering economic deprivation and material hardship is actually much higher. A family of four with two children is considered to be living in poverty at less than $25,926 in annual income. The threshold drops to $20,598 for a family of three people, with one adult and two children. But millions of children in families living above these thresholds — who therefore are not classified as “poor” — lack consistent access to nutritious food, stable housing, health care, and other critical resources needed to support their healthy development. Many advocates, including First Focus on Children, favor increasing the official poverty thresholds.  

It is important to note that the numbers released today do not reflect the impact of COVID-19. The public health emergency and its economic fallout are causing outsized hardship for children and families, with the highest rates of hardship among Black and Hispanic children, whose families are experiencing widespread job and income loss. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which provides real-time information on the pandemic’s effect on children and families, shows increased hunger, housing insecurity, and other struggles. In the most recent survey, more than seven million adults reported that children living in their households often or sometimes had not had enough to eat in the last 7 days.

Without immediate relief, more children will be at-risk of long-lasting harm to their healthy development, threatening our nation’s economic security. First Focus Campaign for Children recently offered Congress policy solutions to protect children from the pandemic’s impact. 

Please join First Focus on Children and our co-hosts, the Children’s Defense Fund and the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group, on Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. ET for a deeper discussion of today’s figures and ways to mitigate both pandemic poverty and our country’s consistently high rate of child poverty. Register at this link.