Children are the poorest age group in the United States. Approximately one in every five or 13.3 million children across the country are poor, with child poverty rates varying considerably between states.
Poverty is defined by the federal government as an annual income below $25,900 for a family of four.
Exposure to the adversity of poverty can have serious health consequences for young children. Compared to children living in more affluent families, children in poor families are less likely to have nutritious food or be taught letters or numbers before entering pre-school.
One of the common consequences of poverty is a lack of immediate access to food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 13 million children — about one in six — in the United States live in families with inconsistent access to food. Many of these children experience hunger on a regular basis. Government programs and charities provide massive support for people in poverty — see for example, the best food banks in America — but these measures cannot always offset disadvantages obtained at birth.
Non profit agency Children’s Defense Fund identified the following nine policy changes that could help address the country’s child poverty problem.
Policy Improvements to Reduce Child Poverty Right Now
- Create transitional jobs for unemployed and underemployed individuals ages 16-64 in families with children.
- Increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15.00 by 2024.
- Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for lower-income families with children.
- Make the Child Tax Credit (CTC) fully refundable with additional benefits for families with young children.
- Make child care subsidies available to all eligible families below 150 percent of poverty with no co-pays.
- Make the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) refundable with a higher reimbursement rate.
- Determine Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits based on USDA’s Low-Cost Food Plan for families with children and increase benefits by 31 percent.
- Make housing vouchers available to all households with children below 150 percent of poverty for whom fair market rent exceeds 50 percent of their income.
- Require child support to be fully passed through to families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF formerly AFDC), fully disregarded for TANF benefits and partially disregarded for SNAP benefits.
According to recent research on intergenerational mobility, the percentage of children who earn more than their parents is down from approximately 90% of children born in 1940 to roughly 50% of children born in the 1980s. In some U.S. counties, based on the probability a child born into poverty will earn above average income as an adult, the American dream is all but dead.
Even when children of poorer families have overcome these obstacles to obtaining a quality K-12 education, attending college remains elusive as even generous needs-based scholarships are often insufficient to off-set the high cost of higher education. Just 4.8% of adults living in poverty have a bachelor’s degree. Educational attainment and poverty are closely related, as America’s least educated states are often at the same time the poorest states in the country.
Upward mobility is easier to achieve when segregation and inequality are low, when the school system is of higher quality, and young people are supported to obtain an education. But segregation remains a serious problem in many places, school quality varies widely across the United States, and the best early education a child can receive is not equally available in all states.
Many of these factors have worsened or changed due largely to widening gaps in income and community resources. Long celebrated as the emblem of U.S. prosperity and economic engine, the U.S. middle class in some states has been shrinking for decades.