Low Income and Hardship Among America's Kindergartners

Gershoff, Elizabeth T.

Seventeen percent of all American children live in families whose incomes fall below the federal poverty level (FPL), and this number is growing. While tracking the number of children and families who are officially "poor" is crucial to understanding our country's economic and social health, it is important to recognize that families whose incomes fall between 100 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level are susceptible to most of the same hardships. Income alone is an insufficient index of how children in families with low incomes are faring. Previous studies have suggested that the hardships associated with low-income families take a negative toll on children. In addition, having two parents working full-time does not guarantee that children will live out of poverty or without hardship. Our findings indicate that hardship does not drop off until family incomes reach twice the poverty line—$36,800 for a family of four in 2003. Consumer expenditure analyses reveal that an income of roughly twice the poverty line would be necessary for a family of two adults and two children to meet their basic needs for food, housing, health care, child care, transportation, and other necessities as well as to pay taxes. The vast majority of children in low-income families have working parents. This report describes the degree and nature of hardship among low-income working and nonworking families in a nationally representative sample of children attending kindergarten—The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (Kindergarten Cohort). A family is considered to be low-income if their income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL).

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