Research Question

  1. What is known about the current state of childhood poverty in the United States?

Childhood poverty has been a persistent problem in the United States, with approximately 1 in 5 children living below the official federal poverty level (FPL) and almost 1 in 2 who are poor or near poor. Child poverty rates have varied somewhat with economic cycles. In recent decades, implementation of antipoverty measures aimed at families with children has shown some protective benefit, especially during the Great Recession. Nevertheless, children remain the poorest members of our society even in good times, with rates that are unacceptably high for a developed nation.

Key Findings

  • Poverty experienced in childhood affects health and well-being into adulthood.
  • Low levels of parental education are strongly associated with childhood poverty.
  • The current U.S. income-based poverty level (FPL) may underestimate families' needs, especially in areas with a high cost of living; the supplemental poverty measure (SPM) may better represent modern living standards.
  • Countries with lower expenditures to support families experience higher poverty rates.
  • Safety net programs such as the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), tax credits for working families, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program reduce family stress and produce positive outcomes in health and in school.


Pediatricians should use this knowledge to work with leaders in education, social services, government, and business to improve the lives of poor children.

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