America’s Youngest Children Are Also the Poorest: The Current State of Poverty in America


The United States has released the latest census data on income and poverty for 2017. The new statistics reveal detailed information about communities all over the country. Combined with additional research conducted by child-focused authoritative sources, it paints a complicated picture.

The State of Poverty in America

The state of American poverty can be a convoluted issue, especially when we dissect the data by region, race or age. Let’s breakdown what the new research tells us.

Some Good News Nationally

Overall, America’s poverty rate has improved over last year, at least by a fraction or two.

Many Americans are seeing improvements in their economic well-being. For example, the median household income increased 1.8 percent, from $60,309 to $61,372, and the poverty rate for adults 18-64 went down 0.4 percentage points in 2017, from 12.7 to 12.3 percent.

Factor in the poverty statistics for children and seniors, and that rate climbs to 13.4 percent (and does not include Puerto Rico, one of the regions with a top overall poverty rate of more than 18 percent). The US Census Bureau reports no statistical change from the previous year for children and seniors.

Digging Deeper Exposes Some Disturbing News

Comparing 2017 to 2016, there were gains and losses, depending on factors such as where you lived, your level of education and your age. Looking at the data as it relates to the individual can help us understand pockets of need and the poverty-related issues that should be addressed, by region, by demographic and in our country as a whole.


2017 Poverty Rate in the Unite States


Children Continue to be the Most at Risk

The most disturbing US poverty statics may be about those Americans who are the youngest and the most vulnerable.

The new census data has revealed America’s youngest children are also the poorest. Among infants and toddlers, one in five are living below the poverty line (19.9 percent in 2017 vs 19.6 percent in 2016). Poverty is defined as an annual income below $25,283 for a family of four.

The percentage of children living in extreme poverty improved from 9 percent to 8 percent. Extreme poverty is defined as an annual income below $12,624 for a family of four.

To put things into perspective, the cost to raise a family of four with moderate expenses, ranges from $58,906 (Brownsville, Texas) to $148,440 (San Francisco, California). These numbers are courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator, released March, 2018.

Infants of Color Are Most Likely to Live in Poverty

When the statistics are reviewed further, this time focusing on the race and ethnicity of children living in poverty, there is a significant finding of disparity. The largest overall increases in poverty rates were among black and Hispanic infants.

Here is how the total poverty rate (19.9 percent) breaks down for children from birth to two years old.

Black (alone or mixed race) 32.7 percent

Hispanic: 27.3 percent

Asian (alone or mixed race) 13.6 percent

White, Non-Hispanic 11.8 percent

In fact, Hispanic or black children are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than their white peers in at least 32 states (data on race is not available for every region of the country). Minnesota had the highest rate of disparity between black children and their white peers; the correlation of black versus white was more than five times as high.

Protecting Our Future

running children in coatsChildren, regardless of race, ethnicity or geographic local are still the group who are most affected by poverty in the US. They are also the most susceptible to its effects. Studies show that when it comes to children, poverty has long term negative impacts on health and education. As children grow into adults, these negative impacts may reflect our future success as a country. Taking care of our most vulnerable children can be both a heart and a head issue. Americans can reach out to aid in the needs of American children both from an empathic motivation and because it makes common sense.

Children have no control of their own economic circumstances. They are a population that must rely on others to provide and guide until the time comes when they become adults. What they learn now and how they are cared for could have far-reaching circumstances for the state of our country.


Child Trends

US Census Bureau

Annie E. Casey Foundation

Children’s Defense Fund

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