Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 1997. ES 1.3 Children in poverty

04/01/1997

Being raised in economically deprived circumstances can have far reaching negative consequences for children. Growing up at or near the poverty line ($15,569 for a family of four in 1995) means not only that a child has a much lower level of consumption than other children, but also that he or she is more likely than a nonpoor child to experience difficulties in school,3 to become a teen parent,4 and, as an adult, to earn less and experience greater unemployment.5 The effects of being raised in a family with income significantly below the poverty line are correspondingly more damaging.

Children At, Below, and Slightly Above the Poverty Level. Figures ES 1.3.A and 1.3.B illustrate trends in the proportions of children living in various degrees of poverty and near-poverty. Specifically:

  • Children in families with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty line. Between 1975 and 1993, the proportion of children living in extreme poverty, that is, at or below 50 percent of the poverty line6 doubled from 5 percent in 1975 to 10 percent by 1993. By 1995, this percentage dropped back to 8 percent, still 60 percent higher than in 1975 (see Figure ES 1.3.A).
  • Children in families with incomes at or below the poverty line. Less dramatic but still striking, the proportion of children at or below 100 percent of the poverty line increased by 29 percent from 17 percent in 1975 to 22 percent by 1993 before dropping to 20 percent by 1995. The percentage of children in poverty has remained at or above 20 percent since 1990 (see Figure ES 1.3.A).
  • Children above but near the poverty line. In contrast, as shown in the lower line of figure ES1.3.B, the proportion of children at or below 150 percent of the poverty line increased only slightly from 30 percent to 32 percent between 1975 and 1995, and, as shown in the upper line of that figure, the proportion of children at or below 200 percent of the poverty line in 1995 was 43 percent the same as in 1975.

Differences by Race and Ethnicity. There are no substantial differences by race or Hispanic origin in the trends described above, even though the incidence of poverty is consistently highest for blacks and lowest for whites (see Table ES 1.3.A). The increase in the percentage of children raised in extreme poverty occurred for all three groups, while the percentage of children at or below 200 percent of the poverty line has hardly changed at all.

Table ES 1.3.B and Figure ES 1.3.C present a more detailed (but less current) look at poverty by race and Hispanic origin using data from the decennial census.7 They show that the incidence of poverty is lowest by far for white children and highest for black and Native American children. While the incidence of poverty grew noticeably between 1979 and 1989 for all groups, the differences between the groups remained stable:

  • The poverty rate for white children was 12.1 percent in 1989.
     
  • The poverty rate for Asian children was 16.7 percent in 1989, nearly a third higher than for white children.
     
  • The poverty rate for Hispanic children was 31.8 percent in 1989, a rate 2.6 times as high as for white children.
     
  • The poverty rate for Native American children was 38.3 percent in 1989, slightly more than three times the poverty rate for white children.
     
  • The poverty rate for black children was 39.5 percent in 1989, slightly more than three times the white child poverty rate.

Child Poverty by Family Type. The chances of a child experiencing poverty are strongly influenced by the type of family in which he or she lives. Throughout the period from 1970 through 1995, about 50 percent of the children living in female-headed families were poor (see Table ES 1.3.C). In contrast, during the 1990s,8 only about 10 percent of children living in married-couple families were poor (see Figure ES 1.3.D).
 

Figure ES 1.3.A 
Percentage of Children Under Age 18 in Families Living Below 50% and 100% of Poverty Line 
 

FIGES1_3A.GIF
Source: Rates for 1975, 1980, and 1985 were calculated by Child Trends, Inc. based on data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-60, No. 106, Table 7; No. 133, Table 7; No. 158, Table 4. Rates for 1990 through 1993 are from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-60, No. 175, No. 185, No. 188, and revised data for 1992 provided by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Poverty Branch. Data for 1994 and 1995 from unpublished tables supplied by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. 

 

Figure ES 1.3.B 
Percentage of Children Under Age 18 in Families Living Below 150% and 200% of Poverty Line 
 

FIGES1_3B.GIF
Source: Rates for 1975, 1980, and 1985 were calculated by Child Trends, Inc. based on data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-60, No. 106, Table 7; No. 133, Table 7; No. 158, Table 4. Rates for 1990 through 1993 are from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-60, No. 175, No. 185, No. 188, and revised data for 1992 provided by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Poverty Branch. Data for 1994 and 1995 from unpublished tables supplied by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. 

 

Figure ES 1.3.C 
Percentage of Children Under Age 18 in Poor Families, by Race/Ethnicity, 1979 and 1989 
 

FIGES1_3C.GIF
Note: The poverty level is based on money income and does not include noncash benefits, such as food stamps. Poverty thresholds reflect family size and composition and are adjusted each year using the annual average Consumer Price Index (CPI) level. The average poverty threshold for a family of four was $15,569 in 1995. Related children include biological children, stepchildren, and adopted children of the householder (or reference person) by blood, marriage, or adoption.   

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-60, No. 106, Table 11; No. 133, Table 11; No. 158, Table 7; No.175, Table 6; No. 181, Table 5; No. 188, Table 8, data 1994, 1995, and revised data for 1992 provided by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Poverty Branch. 

 

Figure ES 1.3.D 
Percentage of Children Under Age 18 in Poor Families, by Family Type, 1970-1995 
 

FIGES1_3D.GIF
Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-60, No. 81, Table 4; No. 86, Table 1; P-60, No. 106, Table 11; No. 133, Table 11; No. 158, Table 7; No. 175, Table 6; No. 181, Table 5; No. 188, Table 8, data for 1994, 1995, and revised data for 1992 provided by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Poverty Branch. 

 

Table ES 1.3.A 
Percentage of Children Under Age 18 Living Below Selected Poverty Thresholds by Age and Race/Ethnicity, 1975-1995
 

 
1975 
1980 
1985 
1990 
1991 
1992 
1993 
1994 
1995 
 
Under 50% of Poverty
  Related Children  
  Under 18
5 
7 
8 
8 
9 
10 
10 
9 
8 
  White
  Black
14 
17 
22 
22 
25 
27 
26 
23 
20 
  Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
14 
14 
15 
14 
17 
16 
 
Under 100% of Poverty
  Related Children                   
  Under 18
17 
18 
20 
20 
21 
22 
22 
21 
20 
  White
13 
13 
16 
15 
16 
17 
17 
16 
16 
  Black
41 
42 
43 
44 
46 
46 
46 
43 
42 
  Hispanic
33 
33 
40 
38 
40 
39 
40 
41 
39 
 
Under 150% of Poverty
  Related Children                   
  Under 18
30 
29 
32 
31 
32 
33 
33 
32 
32 
  White
24 
24 
26 
25 
26 
27 
27 
27 
26 
  Black
60 
57 
59 
57 
60 
60 
61 
58 
56 
  Hispanic 
-- 
-- 
-- 
55 
58 
58 
60 
58 
59 
 
Under 200% of Poverty
  Related Children                   
  Under 18
43 
42 
43 
42 
43 
44 
44 
43 
43 
  White
38 
37 
38 
37 
38 
38 
38 
38 
37 
  Black
73 
70 
71 
68 
70 
71 
72 
68 
68 
  Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
69 
72 
70 
72 
72 
73 
 
Note: The poverty level is based on money income and does not include noncash benefits, such as foods stamps. Poverty thresholds reflect family size and composition and are adjusted each year using the annual average Consumer Price Index (CPI) level. The average poverty threshold for a family of four was $15,569 in 1995. The levels shown here are derived from the ratio of the family's income to the family's poverty threshold. Related children include biological children, stepchildren, and adopted children of the householder and all other children in the household related to the householder (or reference person) by blood, marriage, or adoption.  

Source: Rates for 1975, 1980, and 1985 were calculated by Child Trends, Inc. based on data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-60, No. 106, Table 7; No. 133, Table 7; No. 158, Table 4. Rates for 1990 through 1994 are from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-60, No. 175, No. 188, 189, and revised data for 1992 provided by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Poverty and Health Branch. Data for 1995 are from unpublished tables supplied by the Census Bureau.

 

Table ES 1.3.B
Percentage of Related Children Under Age 18 in Poverty, by Race and Hispanic Origin, 1979 and 1989
 

 
 1979 
1989 
All Children Under Age 18
16.0 
17.9 
  White  
11.0
12.1 
  Black
37.8 
39.5 
  Hispanic
29.1 
31.8 
  Asian
14.9 
16.7 
  Native American
32.5 
38.3 
 
Note: The poverty level is based on money income and does not include noncash benefits, such as foods stamps. Poverty thresholds reflect family size and composition and are adjusted each year using the annual average Consumer Price Index (CPI) level.
Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1980 Census of the Population, "Detailed Population Characteristics," PC-80-1-D1-A, United States Summary, Table 304. U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1990 Census of the Population, "Social and Economic Characteristics," CP-2-1, United States Summary, Table 49.

 

Table ES 1.3.C 
Percentage of Children Under Age 18 Living Below the Poverty Level, by Family Type, Age, and Race/Ethnicity, 1960-1995
 

     
1960 
1965 
1970 
1975 
1980 
1985 
1990 
1991 
1992 
1993 
1994 
1995 
All Types of Families w/ 
Related Children 
under 18
27 
21 
15 
17 
18 
20 
20 
21 
22 
22 
21 
20 
    White
20 
14 
11 
13 
13 
16 
15 
16 
17 
17 
16 
16 
    Black
-- 
-- 
42 
41 
42 
43 
44 
46 
46 
46 
43 
42 
    Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
33 
40 
38 
40 
39 
40 
41 
39 
 
  Related Children 
under 6
-- 
-- 
17 
18 
20 
23 
23 
24 
26 
26 
25 
24 
    White
-- 
-- 
12 
14 
16 
18 
18 
19 
20 
20 
19 
18 
    Black
-- 
-- 
42 
41 
46 
47 
51 
51 
53 
52 
49 
49 
    Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
34 
41 
40 
44 
43 
43 
44 
42 
 
  Related Children 
6 to 17
-- 
-- 
14 
16 
17 
19 
18 
20 
19 
20 
20 
18 
    White
-- 
-- 
10 
12 
12 
14 
14 
15 
15 
15 
15 
14 
    Black
-- 
-- 
41 
42 
40 
41 
41 
43 
43 
43 
40 
38 
    Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
32 
39 
36 
37 
37 
38 
39 
37 
 
Married Couple Families w/ 
Related Children under 18
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
10 
11 
11 
12 
11 
10 
    White
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
10 
10 
11 
10 
    Black
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
18 
15 
18 
18 
15 
13 
    Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
27 
29 
29 
30 
30 
28 
 
  Related Children 
under 6
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
12 
12 
13 
13 
12 
11 
    White
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
11 
11 
12 
13 
11 
11 
    Black
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
20 
17 
22 
20 
15 
14 
    Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
28 
33 
32 
33 
33 
31 
                             
  Related Children 
6 to 17
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
10 
10 
10 
11 
10 
9 
    White
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
10 
    Black
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
17 
14 
16 
17 
14 
12 
    Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
25 
26 
26 
28 
28 
27 
 
Female Headed Families w/
Related Children 
under 18
68 
61 
53 
53 
51 
54 
53 
56 
55 
54 
53 
50 
    White
60 
53 
43 
44 
42 
45 
46 
47 
46 
46 
46 
43 
    Black
-- 
-- 
68 
66 
65 
67 
65 
68 
67 
66 
63 
62 
    Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
65 
72 
68 
69 
66 
66 
68 
66 
 
  Related Children 
under 6
-- 
-- 
64 
62 
65 
66 
66 
66 
66 
64 
64 
62 
    White
-- 
-- 
59 
59 
60 
59 
60 
60 
61 
58 
59 
55 
    Black
-- 
-- 
71 
67 
72 
75 
73 
74 
73 
72 
70 
71 
    Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
70 
78 
77 
74 
72 
72 
74 
72 
 
  Related Children 
6 to 17
-- 
-- 
49 
49 
46 
48 
47 
50 
49 
49 
47 
45 
    White
-- 
-- 
38 
40 
36 
40 
39 
41 
39 
40 
40 
37 
    Black
-- 
-- 
66 
66 
62 
63 
60 
65 
64 
62 
59 
57 
    Hispanic
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
62 
70 
64 
65 
62 
63 
65 
62 
 
Note: The poverty level is based on money income and does not include noncash benefits, such as foods stamps. Poverty thresholds reflect family size and composition and are adjusted each year using the annual average Consumer Price Index (CPI) level. The   

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-60 No. 81, Table 4 No. 86, Table 1; P-60, No. 106, Table 11; No. 133, Table 11; No. 158, Table 7; No. 175, Table 6; No. 181, Table 5; No. 188, Table 8, data for 1994, 1995, and revised data for 1992 provided by 

 

3 Parker, S., Greer, S., and Zuckerman, B. 1988. "Double Jeopardy: The Impact of Povery on Early Childhood Development." Pediatric Clinics of North America, 35: 1-10.  Hill, M.S., and Duncanc, G.D. 1987. "Parental Family Income and the Socioeconomic Attainment of Children." Social Science Research, 16: 39-37

4 An, C., Haveman, R., and Wolfe, B. 1993. "Teen Out-of-Wedlock Births and Welfare Receipt: The Role of Childhood Events and Economic Circumstances," Review of Economics and Statistics.

5 Duncan, G., and Brooks-Gunn, J. 1996. "Income Effects Across the Life Span: Integration and Interpretation," in Consequences of Growing Up Poor (G. Duncan and J. Brooks-Gunn, eds.). New York: Russell Sage Press.

6 $7,784 for a family of four in 1995.

7 These poverty estimates are based on Decennial Census data rather than the Current Population Survey data presented in other tables. Estimates from the two sources differ because the Current Population has a much smaller sample than the Decennial Census.

8 The only period for which these statistics are published.
 
 

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