Policy Priorities

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Investing in Early Childhood to Reduce Child Poverty

November 2009

Poverty can have long term consequences for young children. It can disrupt children's development and negatively impact their educational advancement, their ability to lead productive lives and become responsible citizens. And yet millions of young children feel the effects of poverty every day.

In America:

  • A baby is born poor every 32 seconds; nearly one million babies are born poor every year.
  • Young children under age 5 are the most likely to be poor; 1 in five children under age 5 is poor; 2 in 5 Black children and 1 in 3 Latino children under age 5 are poor.
  • The number of children ages 1 to 5 receiving assistance from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has increased by 17.5 percent since the recession began in December of 2007.
  • One in seven households had difficulty providing food for their families in 2008; half of these 17 million households had children present. This was the highest rate of food insecurity since 1995 when the survey began. 1
  • Due to the economic recession, it is expected that more than 1 in 5 children of all ages will be in poverty in 2010. 2

What Can Advocates Do?

  • Learn more about the new Early Learning Challenge Fund and help educate your Senators about how they can help young children in your state.
  • The Early Learning Challenge Fund would invest $1 billion per year for eight years in challenge grants for states to build high-quality early learning systems for children from birth through age five. The Early Learning Challenge Fund is incorporated in H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009. The legislation has passed the House of Representatives, and now awaits action in the Senate.
  • Work with your state's Early Childhood Advisory Council and state health department.
  • Working together, develop programs that can leverage resources to inform low-income families about the importance of good nutrition during a child’s early years.
  • Make sure families are fully using programs designed to meet the needs of young children, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Child and Adult Care Food Program, Head Start, and Early Head Start.
  • Work with your state education agencies and Head Start programs to help make sure that:
  • The money designated for early childhood programs in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is used in a systematic way that will benefit the youngest children in poor families.
  • Organize health and early childhood education advocates to push for more funding for home visiting programs for young children and their families. Home visitation is an effective, research-based and cost-efficient way to ensure that children have the opportunity to grow up healthy, ready to learn, and to become productive members of society.
  • Offer to serve as a speaker at local civic groups to highlight the needs of young children. Let them know young children are the poorest age group in America and suggest a number of ways they can support young children in your community.


Unless otherwise noted, the source of poverty data is: U.S.  Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, 2009 Annual Social and Economic Supplement, Detailed and Historical Poverty Tables. Calculations by Children's Defense Fund.

1 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Household Food Security in the United States, 2008 (November 2009), Table 2 and p. iii.

2 Land, K.C. (2009). "Foundation for Child Development and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI) Report: A Special Focus Report on Anticipating the Impacts of a 2008-2010 Recession." Washington, D.C.: Foundation for Child Development.