Children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color, children under five, children of single mothers, and children in the South suffering from the highest poverty rates. Two years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, child poverty remains a paralyzing problem that both causes and exacerbates significant disturbances in the lives of all children in our country. Although the number of children living in poverty has fallen from 11.6 million to 11.1 million between 2020 and 2021 In the final tally, the pandemic managed to push more than one million children over the threshold into poverty.
Systemic racism ingrained into our American institutions has been a historical roadblock perpetuating child poverty. Current statistics indicate the ongoing effectiveness of the roadblocks in pushing the American Dream of economic mobility further out of reach, especially for Black and Brown children (see Table 2).
- Among the 74 million children living in the United States, 11 million live in poverty.
- One in six children under 5 (3 million children) were poor, the highest rate of any age group.
- The pandemic forced children already in poverty even deeper into poverty. Almost half (47%) of all children living in poverty live in severe or extreme poverty, a number which rose from 4.5 million before the pandemic to 5.5 million in 2021.
- The South, home to 47% of children in our country who live in poverty, experiences the highest child poverty rates with 1 in 5 children living in poverty.
- 9 million children faced hunger and food insecurity.
- 4 million children lived without health insurance.
The pandemic has been instrumental in highlighting how inadequately our American economic system serves and supports children and families. Income and wealth inequalities continue to cause exhaustive harm to children in low-income households, in which families of color remain dramatically overrepresented. In 2021, the median family income of White households with children ($102,700) was roughly double that of Black ($46,600), Hispanic ($57,800), and American Indian/Alaska Native ($53,900) families with children (see Table 7). Since 2005, Black families have consistently earned the lowest incomes and only half as much as other racial/ethnic groups between 2019 and 2021.
Growing up in poverty has wide-ranging, sometimes lifelong, effects on children, putting them at a much higher risk of experiencing behavioral, social, emotional, and health challenges. Childhood poverty also plays an instrumental role in impairing a child’s ability and capacity to learn, build skills, and succeed academically. Much work remains for the benefit of America’s children.
The CTC served as an answer in response to income and wealth disparities by alleviating some of the burdens on low-income earners and single-headed households. Prior to the pandemic, the CTC was responsible for lifting over four million children out of poverty through various governmentally accessible programs in 2018.11 According to a recent survey, over 1,000 parents reported spending their monthly CTC payments on household necessities like food, rent, and clothing.12 Child poverty will continue to intensify without such supports, forcing even more children to endure complex difficulties during their most critical developmental years. Cash assistance, allowances, rental and housing support, SNAP/TANF benefits, unemployment, and other inclusive economic programs provide crucial reinforcements. As we advocate for these supports, we must also take a longer view to more deeply enact systemic and structural change that will allow our children to thrive.