An Absurd Number of Children in the United States Are Living in Poverty

Written by Hannah Matthews

Since the early part of the decade, the number of young children – those from birth to 5 years of age – living in poverty in the United States has been climbing. While that number held steady in 2012, according to data released today from the U.S. Census, the latest poverty report is far from good news.

Our babies are still poor.

Nearly 6 million young children – one in four children under the age of 6 – live in poor households. The rate is higher yet for young Black children and young Hispanic children.

What’s more, nearly half of young children live in low-income households that have to manage with incomes less than twice the poverty threshold. To put this number into perspective, a low-income household has annual earnings of less than $46,100 for a family of four. This measure is a more accurate way of assessing the amount of income a family needs to make ends meet when considering a modern household budget with health care, child care and other costs.

It’s the fourth straight year that approximately a quarter of young children under age six have been poor. Yet, inexplicably, these 6 million children have yet to provoke a national outcry.

Children growing up in poverty experience poorer health, higher incidence of developmental delays and learning disabilities, and greater hunger compared to their peers. The prevalence of poverty is highest during the earliest, most formative years of children’s lives. Infants and toddlers in poor families go without basic needs and endure hardships associated with poverty during a time of early development that lays the foundation for future growth and learning.

The experience of living in poverty matters for every one of these children. It matters for our country as well. Research shows poverty is a strong predictor of children’s success in school and adult employment and earnings, which means we all have a stake in these children. If nearly a quarter of our nation’s youngest children live in families without the means to support their healthy development, we all suffer. Poor health, educational attainment and future earnings will harm our country and our future productivity as much as it will hamper an individual’s success in life.

The consequences of childhood poverty are not surprising. It’s intuitive that children living in households with less means would experience deprivation that puts them behind their peers on a range of measures.

What’s less widely understood are the causes of poverty and the characteristics of poor families. While families with full-time earners are less likely to be poor, nearly 28 percent of poor families with related children under age 6 include a member who works full-time, year-round.

Not only are these families working in jobs that fail to provide sufficient wages to meet their household expenses, these parents are struggling to balance care for their children with the very real demands of low-wage work. The nature of employment among the working poor makes it difficult to raise children. Few low-wage parents have access to paid time off, making it especially challenging to care for newborn or sick children. Unstable and nonstandard work schedules, increasingly a characteristic of low-wage work, make securing stable child care difficult and complicate a parent’s ability to balance home and work obligations. Stress associated with low-wage work may add to parental stress that has a negative impact on children’s development.

The high costs of child care contribute to poverty. Poor families paying for child care spend an estimated 30 percent of their income on child care, compared to 8 percent for families above poverty.

Today’s poverty numbers should be intolerable. Our youngest children are still poor, and we shouldn’t expect our babies, toddlers and preschoolers to do something to change that. It’s inexcusable that they are destined to spend the rest of their lives trying to play catch up. It’s time, as a country, to acknowledge that our future depends on all our children getting the support they need for a strong start in life. We have policy solutions that support parents’ ability to work and provide for their families and that strengthen early foundations for children. These solutions include increasing access to quality jobs, paid family and medical leave, and affordable child care and early education. They would go a long way to supporting children’s healthy development and helping to alleviate the impact of child poverty.

Our babies can’t wait.

This post was originally published in MomsRising

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marc P.
Marc P5 years ago

Marie W.: Your comment: "I have seen too many ignorant, lazy, and just plain ass dumb people have too many children and expect others to support them. And, truth be know, some are my relatives."
My comment: One obviously was your mom.....

Donna Ferguson
Donna F5 years ago

people who are born kin poverty have higher rates of illness (maybe the AFA will help this), grow up w/fewer options to change their lives, and may live in poverty all of their lives. Believe me, I know!

Roxana Saez
Roxana Saez5 years ago

TYFS....I agree, our real wealth as a nation are our children.

Karen C.

Thank you for this article. I hope a lot of people read it. As a Country we should be doing a lot better. Children are our future !!! They should not be Hungary, sick--in poor homes. We need Congress to raise wages to a liveable level-- the ACA law will help. Low-cost child care is necessary. Education is so important----and the list goes on-----

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

Free spay and neuter clinics for people in each county/city. Anyone convicted of serious crimes sterilized. No more constantly having kids while on welfare to get more welfare. Sterilize after first child. Make birth control free and if you cannot or will not use it- then forcibly apply.
I do not want to see children suffer for parents stupidity- however, I have seen too many ignorant, lazy, and just plain ass dumb people have too many children and expect others to support them. And, truth be know, some are my relatives.

Lynnl C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Robynne W.
Robynne W5 years ago

Forgot to add my source: Federal Register, Vol. 78, No. 16, January 24, 2013, pp. 5182-5183

Robynne W.
Robynne W5 years ago

Marilyn you asked what the poverty level is today:
Persons in family/household Poverty guideline
1 $11,490
2 15,510
3 19,530
4 23,550
5 27,570
6 31,590
7 35,610
8 39,630
For families/households with more than 8 persons, add $4,020 for each additional person.

Virginia B.
Virginia B5 years ago

What has added to the poverty in this nation is the change in the jobs spectrum. With more and more mechanization of jobs, which people used to perform, and the outsourcing of many,many more jobs to countries, which condone "slave labor", what are left are "service jobs." These jobs are to be found in huge supermarket chains, "big box" stores (excepting Costco) and the multibillion fast food restaurant chains. These business enterprises are notorious for underpaying their employees by all sorts of subterfuges, including"part time" hires, which absolve them from paying retirement pensions or medical insurance. These businesses are raking in billions & billions of dollars per year, yet they find every possible way to "screw over" their employees. This can only be rectified by legislation to raise salaries, and tax the multi-billionaires, -millionaires more in line with their salaries.

Marianne C.
Marianne C5 years ago

@ Marilyn L:

$46,100 isn't a bad income in most of the Midwest, either. People at that level might not get a new car every two years -- or ever -- and their kids might not wear designer clothes to school, but they get by in all but the biggest cities, i.e., Chicago, some parts of Indianapolis, the high rent districts of Milwaukee and Madison, etc.

When I was single, I used to live on a lot less than that.