America's Health Rankings, United Health Foundation Logo

Children in Poverty
Children in Poverty in United States
United States

Explore national- and state-level data for hundreds of health, environmental and socioeconomic measures, including background information about each measure. Use features on this page to find measures; view subpopulations, trends and rankings; and download and share content.

How to use this page

Children in Poverty in depth:

Explore Population Data:

General Population

Children in Poverty by State

Percentage of children younger than 18 years who live in households below the poverty threshold

Children in Poverty Trends

Percentage of children younger than 18 years who live in households below the poverty threshold

View All Populations

Children in Poverty

About Children in Poverty

US Value: 16.8%

Top State(s): New Hampshire: 7.1%

Bottom State(s): Mississippi: 28.1%

Definition: Percentage of children younger than 18 years who live in households below the poverty threshold

Data Source and Years: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2019

Suggested Citation: America's Health Rankings analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, United Health Foundation,, accessed 2023.

Families with incomes below the federal poverty level may struggle to consistently meet the basic needs of their children. Exposure to chronic stress, including unreliable access to food, health care and stable housing, may impair the development of children in poverty and can affect their health at any stage: 

  • Birth: Mothers living in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to give birth prematurely and have low birthweight babies.
  • Childhood: Obesity, asthma and emergency room visits are more common among children living in poverty compared with those not living in poverty. Impoverished and low-income children often have greater need for health services, particularly for mental health.
  • Adolescence: As impoverished children grow up, they are more likely to engage in risky or unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes, and less likely to complete high school.
  • Adulthood: Obesity, risk factors for cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and premature mortality are all associated with low socioeconomic status during childhood. Childhood poverty has also been linked to difficulty with emotional regulation that lasts into adulthood regardless of changes in income status, and is associated with development of physical and mental health issues later in life.

Living in poverty affects a child’s ability to succeed in school and may impact potential future earnings. The cost of childhood poverty in the United States was estimated at $1.03 trillion annually, factoring in lost potential earnings and associated medical costs.

The prevalence of poverty is higher among:

  • Non-Hispanic Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children, who both have prevalence rates more than 3 times higher than those of non-Hispanic white and Asian children.
  • Children of single mothers compared with children who live in two-parent households or in single-father households. 
  • Children ages 0-5 compared with children ages 12-17.

Recent innovations to mitigate the adverse effects of childhood poverty utilize the two-generation approach, which promotes family resilience by combining support and education programs for parents with early childhood intervention programs into a stronger, whole family experience.

Many government programs and community interventions exist to help reduce the number of children in poverty and support low-income families:

  • The earned income tax credit (EITC), the largest U.S. poverty-alleviation program, provides a tax credit to employed families and individuals living in poverty. Research shows the benefits of the program include decreased prevalence of low birthweight and preterm birth and increases in breastfeeding. One study calculated that an annual $3,000 from the EITC for a family with a child under 5 will result in an average 19% increase in future earnings for the child.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, provides nutrition benefits to families in need.
  • The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides food and nutritional support specifically for pregnant and postpartum women and children. The WIC program has been associated with a lower prevalence of low birthweight, with greater gains among women with low education.
  • The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides free or low-cost meals to students at school.
  • Child First is a comprehensive program that provides financial, housing and food assistance and early childhood interventions for low-income families. 
  • Medicaid provides health care to low-income adults, pregnant women and children.
  • Universal basic income programs can provide those living in poverty with regular cash transfers to meet basic needs regardless of employment status, age or other restrictive conditions. 

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine proposed four policy packages that would reduce child poverty by 24%-52% while using existing policy options to maximize effectiveness.

While not specific to children, reducing the proportion of those living in poverty is a Healthy People 2030 economic stability objective.

Atwell, Matthew N., Balfanz, Robert, Manspile, Eleanor, Byrnes, Vaughan, and Bridgeland, John M. “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates. Featuring the Meeting the Moment Plan. Annual Update 2020.” Washington, D.C.: Civic; Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, 2020.

Chaudry, Ajay, and Christopher Wimer. “Poverty Is Not Just an Indicator: The Relationship Between Income, Poverty, and Child Well-Being.” Academic Pediatrics 16, no. 3 (April 2016): S23–29.

Duncan, Greg J., Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, and Ariel Kalil. “Early-Childhood Poverty and Adult Attainment, Behavior, and Health.” Child Development 81, no. 1 (January 2010): 306–25.

Haider, Areeba. “The Basic Facts About Children in Poverty.” Center for American Progress, January 12, 2021.

Hamad, Rita, and David H. Rehkopf. “Poverty, Pregnancy, and Birth Outcomes: A Study of the Earned Income Tax Credit.” Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 29, no. 5 (September 2015): 444–52.

Hoynes, Hilary, Marianne Page, and Ann Huff Stevens. “Can Targeted Transfers Improve Birth Outcomes?: Evidence from the Introduction of the WIC Program.” Journal of Public Economics 95, no. 7 (August 1, 2011): 813–27.

Hoynes, Hilary W., and Ankur J. Patel. “Effective Policy for Reducing Inequality? The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Distribution of Income.” Working Paper 21340. National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2015.

Kim, Pilyoung, Gary W. Evans, Michael Angstadt, S. Shaun Ho, Chandra S. Sripada, James E. Swain, Israel Liberzon, and K. Luan Phan. “Effects of Childhood Poverty and Chronic Stress on Emotion Regulatory Brain Function in Adulthood.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, no. 46 (November 12, 2013): 18442–47.

McLaughlin, Michael, and Mark R. Rank. “Estimating the Economic Cost of Childhood Poverty in the United States.” Social Work Research 42, no. 2 (June 1, 2018): 73–83.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty. Edited by Greg Duncan and Suzanne Le Menestrel. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2019.

Ncube, Collette N., Daniel A. Enquobahrie, Steven M. Albert, Amy L. Herrick, and Jessica G. Burke. “Association of Neighborhood Context with Offspring Risk of Preterm Birth and Low Birthweight: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Population-Based Studies.” Social Science & Medicine 153 (March 2016): 156–64.

Odgers, Candice L., and Sara R. Jaffee. “Routine Versus Catastrophic Influences on the Developing Child.” Annual Review of Public Health 34, no. 1 (March 18, 2013): 29–48.

Power, Chris, Diana Kuh, and Susan Morton. “From Developmental Origins of Adult Disease to Life Course Research on Adult Disease and Aging: Insights from Birth Cohort Studies.” Annual Review of Public Health 34, no. 1 (March 18, 2013): 7–28.

Sandel, Megan, Elena Faugno, Angela Mingo, Jessie Cannon, Kymberly Byrd, Dolores Acevedo Garcia, Sheena Collier, Elizabeth McClure, and Renée Boynton Jarrett. “Neighborhood-Level Interventions to Improve Childhood Opportunity and Lift Children Out of Poverty.” Academic Pediatrics 16, no. 3 (April 2016): S128–35.

Current Reports

America’s Health Rankings builds on the work of the United Health Foundation to draw attention to public health and better understand the health of various populations. Our platform provides relevant information that policymakers, public health officials, advocates and leaders can use to effect change in their communities.

We have developed detailed analyses on the health of key populations in the country, including women and children, seniors and those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, in addition to a deep dive into health disparities across the country.