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Young Children in Deep Poverty: Racial/Ethnic Disparities and Child Well-Being Compared to Other Income Groups


Nine percent of young U.S. children live in deep poverty, with state rates ranging from 17 percent in Mississippi to
4 percent in Utah. The families of these children have incomes below 50 percent of the federal poverty line, or less
than $10,289 for a family of one parent and two children. These figures, based on 2019 data, predate the COVID-19
pandemic, which likely drove more families with young children into poverty and deep poverty given the large increase in unemployment related to workplace closures, lack of child care, and other pandemic conditions.

While families in deep poverty may qualify for various forms of assistance, many experience severe financial hardship due to the very limited support provided by public benefits. In 16 states, cash assistance in the form of TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) is provided to only 10 percent or fewer of families in poverty. Monthly TANF benefits vary across states, with 18 states providing less than $356 for a single parent family of three. Even SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), a benefit credited with reducing child poverty by 28 percent, leaves families with unmet needs. A recent analysis showed that the maximum SNAP benefit fell short of meeting monthly food costs by about $46 per family member. Although housing is the largest portion of most families’ expenses, federal rental assistance is available to only 22 percent of low-income families with children, and only six states supplement this support with housing assistance targeted to families.

Both a lack of material resources and parental stress associated with poverty have been identified as key pathways to worse health, developmental, and school-related outcomes of poor children compared to their non-poor peers. Although research focused specifically on young children in deep poverty is limited, the conditions of deep poverty suggest that these children may be at exceptionally high risk of poor outcomes. First, research has shown that poverty experienced in early childhood is especially detrimental to children’s development. Second, deep poverty may lead to especially high levels of stress among parents struggling to meet basic needs, and stress is associated with less optimal parenting behavior. Third, other factors associated with poverty and child well-being, such as poor birth outcomes and family social isolation, may be more prevalent among families with very little or no income.

Understanding more about the early health and development of young children in deep poverty and related risk factors can inform policies tailored to this group of vulnerable families. To date, most recommendations explicitly targeted to reducing the number of families in deep poverty have focused mainly on policies that increase family income. The National Academy of Sciences report, Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, examines two policy packages that meet the goal of reducing both poverty and deep poverty by 50 percent. These packages include an increased minimum wage, a child allowance, and housing assistance. Based on an earlier examination of young children and families in deep poverty, NCCP has recommended a mix of policies to increase family income and ensure immediate and longer-term supports for children’s healthy development in the family and in early care and education settings. This report presents new analyses with more recent data that highlight the needs of young children and families in deep poverty, along with updated recommendations.


Source: National Center for Children in Poverty (2020) Young Children in Deep Poverty: Racial/Ethnic Disparities and Child-Well Being Compared to Other Income Groups.