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Indicator 4: Children Living in Poverty
(Last Updated: July 2017)

In 2014, the percentage of children under the age of 18 in families living in poverty based on the official poverty measure was highest for Black children (37 percent), followed by Hispanic children (31 percent), and White and Asian children (12 percent each).

In 2014, approximately 15 million children under the age of 18 were in families living in poverty, according to the official poverty measure. Research suggests that living in poverty during early childhood is associated with lower-than-average academic performance that begins in kindergarten1 and extends through high school, leading to lower-than-average rates of school completion.2 This indicator examines the percentage of children under the age of 18 in families living in poverty by race/ethnicity using two different poverty measures, the official poverty measure and the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM).


Figure 4.1. Percentage of children under age 18 in families living in poverty based on the official poverty measure, by race/ethnicity: 2000 through 2014

Figure 4.1. Percentage of children under age 18 in families living in poverty based on the official poverty measure, by race/ethnicity: 2000 through 2014


1 In 2000 and 2001, Asian includes Pacific Islanders as well as Asians.
NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutional population. Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not separately shown, including Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Two or more races. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. The official poverty measure consists of a set of thresholds for families of different sizes and compositions that are compared to before-tax cash income to determine a family's poverty status. For more information about how the Census Bureau determines who is in poverty, see http://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/poverty/guidance/poverty-measures.html.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2001 through 2015. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 102.50.


The official poverty measure was developed in 1960 and consists of a set of thresholds for families of different sizes and compositions that are compared to before-tax cash income to determine a family's poverty status. According to this measure, approximately 21 percent of all related children under age 18 were in families living in poverty in 2014, an increase over the percentage in 2000 (16 percent). In addition, the 2014 official poverty measure rate was higher than the rate in 2013 (21 vs. 19 percent). From 2000 to 2014, the official poverty measure rate increased for Black (from 31 to 37 percent), Hispanic (from 28 to 31 percent), and White children (from 9 to 12 percent), but did not change measurably for Asian children.

The percentage of children under age 18 living in poverty based on the official poverty measure varied across racial/ethnic groups. In 2014, the percentage was highest for Black children (37 percent), followed by Hispanic children (31 percent), and White and Asian children (12 percent each).


Figure 4.2. Percentage of children under age 18 in families living in poverty based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure, by race/ethnicity: 2009 and 2014

Figure 4.2. Percentage of children under age 18 in families living in poverty based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure, by race/ethnicity: 2009 and 2014


NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutional population. Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not separately shown, including Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Two or more races. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates. The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) extends the information provided by the official poverty measure by adding to family income the value of benefits from many government programs designed to assist low-income families, subtracting taxes and necessary expenses such as child care costs (for working families) and medical expenses, and adjusting poverty thresholds for differences in housing costs. To match the population included in the current official poverty measure, SPM estimates presented here exclude unrelated children under age 15. For more information about the SPM, see http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2012/demo/p60-244.pdf.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) Research Files, 2009 and 2014. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 102.50.


The SPM is an alternative poverty measure developed more recently than the official poverty measure (the U.S. Census Bureau first published data using the SPM in 2011 for data years 2009 and later). The SPM extends the information provided by the official poverty measure by adding to family income the value of benefits from many government programs designed to assist low-income families, subtracting taxes and necessary expenses such as child care costs (for working families) and medical expenses, and adjusting poverty thresholds for differences in housing costs.3

Of all children under age 18, the percentage who were in families living in poverty based on the SPM was approximately 16 percent in 2014. This percentage was not measurably different from the percentage of children living in poverty based on the SPM in 2009. Additionally, there was no measurable difference between the 2009 and 2014 SPM poverty rates for either White or Black children. The SPM poverty rate for Hispanic children was lower in 2014 (27 percent) than in 2009 (29 percent). A higher percentage of Hispanic (27 percent) and Black (26 percent) children than of Asian children (15 percent) were living in poverty in 2014, according to the SPM. In addition, the SPM poverty rate for White children in 2014 (9 percent) was lower than the SPM rate for all other groups.


Figure 4.3. Percentage of children under age 18 in families living in poverty, by race/ethnicity and type of poverty measure: 2014

Figure 4.3. Percentage of children under age 18 in families living in poverty, by race/ethnicity and type of poverty measure: 2014


1 The official poverty measure consists of a set of thresholds for families of different sizes and compositions that are compared to before-tax cash income to determine a family's poverty status. For more information about how the Census Bureau determines who is in poverty, see http://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/poverty/guidance/poverty-measures.html.
2 The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) extends the information provided by the official poverty measure by adding to family income the value of benefits from many government programs designed to assist low-income families, subtracting taxes and necessary expenses such as child care costs (for working families) and medical expenses, and adjusting poverty thresholds for differences in housing costs. To match the population included in the current official poverty measure, SPM estimates presented here exclude unrelated children under age 15. For more information about the SPM, see http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2012/demo/p60-244.pdf.
NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutional population. Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not separately shown, including Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Two or more races. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2014; and Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) Research Files, 2014. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 102.50.


Comparing the poverty rate based on the official measure with the rate based on the SPM for children under age 18 provides an interesting look into how poverty rates can differ when benefits from government programs, subtractions for taxes and necessary expenses, and housing cost adjustments are included as part of family income. In 2014, the rate of children under age 18 who were in families living in poverty based on the official poverty measure was higher than the rate in poverty based on the SPM (21 vs. 16 percent). A similar pattern was found across racial/ethnic groups, with the exception of Asian children, where there was no measurable difference between the rate based on the official measure and the rate based on the SPM. The percentage-point difference between the poverty rate based on the official measure and the rate based on the SPM was larger for Black children (11 percentage points) than for Hispanic (5 percentage points) and White children (2 percentage point).


Figure 4.4. Percentage of children under age 18 in mother-only households living in poverty, by race/ethnicity and type of poverty measure: 2014

Figure 4.4. Percentage of children under age 18 in mother-only households living in poverty, by race/ethnicity and type of poverty measure: 2014


1 The official poverty measure consists of a set of thresholds for families of different sizes and compositions that are compared to before-tax cash income to determine a family's poverty status. For more information about how the Census Bureau determines who is in poverty, see http://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/poverty/guidance/poverty-measures.html.
2 The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) extends the information provided by the official poverty measure by adding to family income the value of benefits from many government programs designed to assist low-income families, subtracting taxes and necessary expenses such as child care costs (for working families) and medical expenses, and adjusting poverty thresholds for differences in housing costs. To match the population included in the current official poverty measure, SPM estimates presented here exclude unrelated children under age 15. For more information about the SPM, see http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2012/demo/p60-244.pdf.
NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutional population. Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not separately shown, including Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Two or more races. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2014; and Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) Research Files, 2014. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 102.50.


The poverty rate of children in mother-only households based on the official measure and based on the SPM can also be compared overall and by racial/ethnic group. In 2014, children under 18 living in mother-only households overall had a higher poverty rate based on the official measure than based on the SPM (46 vs. 33 percent). A similar pattern was found across racial/ethnic groups, with the exception of Asian children, for whom there was no measurable difference between the poverty rate based on the official measure and the rate based on the SPM. The percentage-point difference between the poverty rate based on the official measure and the rate based on the SPM for children under 18 living in mother-only households was larger for Black children (17 percentage points) than for White children (11 percentage points) and Hispanic children (11 percentage points).

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1 Mulligan, G.M., Hastedt, S., and McCarroll, J.C. (2012). First-Time Kindergartners in 2010–11: First Findings From the Kindergarten Rounds of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) (NCES 2012-049). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2012049.
2 Ross, T., Kena, G., Rathbun, A., KewalRamani, A., Zhang, J., Kristapovich, P., and Manning, E. (2012). Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence Study (NCES 2012- 046). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved August 2015 from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012046.pdf.
3 To match the population included in the current official poverty measure, SPM estimates presented here exclude unrelated children under age 15.