Who Are Most Affected by Poverty in the U.S.? Our Children


Meet Katrina

It is 8:45 am, and already 11-year-old Katrina is late. Her school district cut her bus stop this year, so she is forced to walk an extra three blocks.  As the wind picks up, Katrina pulls her sweater closer to her body and steps a little faster. If she misses the bus, she will have to get through the morning without her school’s free breakfast.

Katrina makes it to the bus stop just in time. The doors open and she climbs the metal steps of the bus. The cold seeps into the bottom of her shoes. She self consciously pulls her sleeves down, past her bare wrists, gripping the fabric in her palms. This morning, she couldn’t force her arms into the hand me down coat she got three years ago, so she had to leave it behind. Maybe no one will notice.

Chances are you probably have seen Katrina at the bus stop, or many of the other 16 million children in need in the US. Sometimes poverty is obvious, but sometimes poverty hides in plain sight, if we aren’t careful. Katrina is lucky, though; she still has a roof over her head. Last year, more than 1.6 million children had to live in a shelter or emergency housing.

What Does Poverty Look like for a Child in America?

In the U.S., it is our children who are most affected by poverty.

One in five American children live in need. In addition to experiencing a lack of adequate food, clothing and shelter, a typical child living below the poverty line:

  • Experiences developmental delays that put him two to four years below grade level
  • Suffers from obesity and nutritional deficiency
  • Is often ill with chronic conditions
  • May have elevated blood lead levels, which are associated with serious behavior and learning problems
  • Misses a high percentage of school days and is likely to drop out of school before graduating high school
  • Is likely to remain poor and uneducated as an adult.

Childhood Poverty“The youngest children are most likely to be poor in America, with nearly 1 in 4 children under age 5 living in poverty during the years of rapid brain development,” says Stefanie Sprow, Deputy Director of Child Welfare and Mental Health for the Children’s Defense Fund. “These disparities create an early disadvantage that is often hard to overcome.”

Living in a State of Insecurity

“Child poverty destroys dreams and opportunities,” Sprow says. Living in poverty for a child in the US also means living in a state of insecurity and anxiety, and sometimes childhood depression. Even the youngest children must live with food insecurity, lack of adequate clothing, homelessness and the emotional turmoil of being in want.

A single financial emergency in the family can turn a precarious situation into a serious one. It can mean suddenly being without a home, enduring a bone chilling winter without heat, or spending a lot of scary time alone, because a parent or caregiver can’t afford child care. It can mean low self esteem and lack of peer acceptance, and consequently poor decision making that leads to risky behavior. it can mean living without hope or a sense that the outside word cares.

Solving the Problem of Childhood Poverty

When measuring child poverty rates, our country ranks near the bottom of all wealthy nations, according to a report by UNICEF.

There are many different approaches to solving childhood poverty in America, and many different opinions. Here are some things that we do know:

  • Doing something to eradicate childhood poverty is always better than doing nothing
  • Supporting children in need fosters a better society and a better future
  • When the poor are given money, they usually use it to improve their children’s lives
  • It is always worthwhile to make a difference in the life of a child. The impact of that support will stay with her for a lifetime
  • A child is never responsible for his poverty.

Solving the problem of childhood poverty in our country requires all of us. There are so many ways to make a difference. Becoming aware, donating to a reputable organization that provides support and relief to children in poverty, and volunteering are just a few ways we can make an impact. “America could reduce child poverty now by 60 percent for all poor children with policy improvements,” Sprow adds. “We know what to do, but we need to build the public will to do it.”

Receive stories of warmth, confidence and hope and learn how you can help children in need. Join the Operation Warm monthly newsletter!



To learn more about childhood poverty, explore the following resources: 

The National Center for Children in Poverty
Poverty USA a CCHD Initiative 
Child Trends
Children’s Defense Fund report, Ending Child Poverty Now

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