Living at the Edge: American Low-Income Children and Families

Lu, Hsien-Hen; Palmer, Julian; Song, Younghwan; Lennon, Mary Clare; Aber, John Lawrence

By analyzing data from the Current Population Survey March Supplements, Living at the Edge explores the following questions about children in low-income families in the United States: What are the overall changes in the low-income and poverty rates for children over the past quarter century? How has the population of children in low-income families changed over the past decade? Which children are more likely to live in low-income families? How have changes in parental employment status affected the likelihood of children living in low-income families? What are the state by state variations in child low-income and poverty rates, and how have these changed in the last decade? How does a more inclusive definition of family income and expenses affect our understanding of the poverty and near-poverty rates of children in low-income families? This report helps document significant improvements in the child low-income rate as well as the significant decrease in the proportion of children who relied on public assistance during the 1990s. However, Living at the Edge also finds a notable increase in the share of children who lived in near-poor families (those with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty line) among children in low-income families during the 1990s. Many disadvantaged groups of children, including those with young parents, minority parents, parents with limited education, or unmarried parents, were less likely to live in poor or low-income families in the late 1990s than such children a decade earlier. The improvement in the child low-income rates of these disadvantaged groups was closely related to an increase in parental employment during the late 1990s. However, the low-income rate worsened for children whose more educated parent had a high-school diploma but no college education. For children of many disadvantaged social groups, parental employment appears to do less to protect them from economic hardship then it did a decade earlier. The groups that suffered the most in reduced economic security given parental employment status were those in the medium risk ranks (children in families with at least one parent between ages 25 to 39, children whose more educated parent had only has a high school diploma, and in father-only families). The report also notes that the official measure of poverty ignores the burden of medical and work related expenses as well as taxes and therefore tends to underestimate the share of children in near-poor and low-income families facing economic insecurity. Finally, we discuss the policy implications for our findings.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University
ISERP Working Papers, 03-04
Published Here
August 23, 2010


October 2003.