The Changing Demographics of Low-Income Families and Their Children

Lu, Hsien-Hen; Koball, Heather

Nearly 40 percent of America's children live in low-income families, which is defined as having a family income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Currently, this is $36,800 a year for a family of four. Research suggests that this income level is the minimum amount required for families to meet their basic material needs. Children who live in low-income families face many of the same risks as those children officially acknowledged as poor, including learning difficulties, social and emotional problems, and poor health. The number of children in low-income families decreased steadily from 1993 to 2000. Specifically, children of young parents, minority parents, parents with limited education, and single parents experienced growing family incomes. But while employment has increased, full-time work provides less protection against hardship than it did a decade ago. In 2001, the number of children in low-income families increased for the first time since 1993; data just released by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the situation continued to worsen in 2002. This report examines how low-income families fared over the past decade—a period when the economy boomed, and then declined, and when welfare reform both encouraged work and reduced the availability of public assistance. A close examination of the experiences of the past decade can help shed light on which families to target and what policies seem to make a difference.

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National Center for Children in Poverty
National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University
Published Here
July 8, 2010