Special Report

Cities Where the Most Children Live in Poverty

Evan Comen

America’s cities are home to some of the worst pockets of childhood poverty in the country. An estimated 17.7% of American children living in metropolitan areas — a total of 11.1 million — live in poverty.

As can be seen in this in-depth profile on poverty in America, Children born into poverty face enormous economic disadvantages and are less likely to have the same educational and professional success as children born into wealthier families. A September 2015 study from the D.C.-based think tank Urban Institute found that just 3.2% of Americans born between 1968 and 1989 who spent at least half their childhoods in poverty graduated from college by age 25, compared to 36.5% of Americans who were never poor. 

The same study found that compared to those who never experienced poverty, children who grew up in persistent poverty were about 50% more likely to experience premarital teen birth and twice as likely to not be consistently employed between the ages of 25 to 30. According to a 2019 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, child poverty costs the United States between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion a year in reduced productivity and other economic costs.

One powerful weapon in the fight against child poverty is high-quality early childhood education. The Perry Preschool Project and The Carolina Abecedarian Project, two of the most widely acclaimed longitudinal studies on the effects of early childhood education, found that children who went to high-quality preschools were nearly three times as likely to attend college as children who did not go to preschool, and by age 40, they had lifetime earnings that were $150,000 greater on average than their non-preschool peers. 

The federal Head Start program, as well as various state-funded public programs, aim to provide free preschool to children living in poor households. While 48% of 3- to 4-year-olds nationwide are enrolled in preschool, the figure is lower in two-thirds of cities with above-average child poverty rates.

Many of the cities with the highest child poverty rates are also the cities where the most people rely on food stamps. They are also among this list of cities with the highest poverty rates overall.

Click here to see the cities where the most children live in poverty
Click here to read our methodology