Who are America's Poor Children? The Official Story

Fass, Sarah; Cauthen, Nancy K.

Nearly 13 million American children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, which is $20,000 a year for a family of four. The number of children living in poverty increased by more than 11 percent between 2000 and 2005. There are 1.3 million more children living in poverty today than in 2000, despite indications of economic recovery and growth. Not only are these numbers dispiriting, the official poverty measure tells only part of the story—it is increasingly viewed as a flawed metric of economic hardship (see box). Research consistently shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice the federal poverty level to make ends meet. Children living in families with incomes below this level—for 2006, $40,000 for a family of four—are referred to as low income. Thirty-nine percent of the nation’s children—more than 28 million in 2005—live in low-income families. Nonetheless, official poverty statistics continue to be used by researchers, policymakers, and the media to define economic disadvantage. In addition, eligibility for many public benefits is based on the official poverty measure. This fact sheet details some of the characteristics of American children who are considered poor by these official standards.

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National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University

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National Center for Children in Poverty
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February 22, 2019