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FA C T S H E E T

Basic Facts about Low-Income Children
Children under 18 Years, 2016
Heather Koball | Yang Jiang January 2018

Among all children under 18 years in the U.S., 41 percent are
Contents: low-income children and 19 percent—approximately one in five—are
1. Trends poor. This means that children are overrepresented among our nation’s
2. Federal poverty threshold (FPT) poor; they represent 23 percent of the population but comprise 32
3. Low-income children by: percent of all people in poverty. Many more children live in families
◆◆ Age group
with incomes just above the poverty threshold.1
◆◆ Race/ethnicity
◆◆ Parents’ nativity
4. Family characteristics Being a child in a low-income or poor family does not happen by
◆◆ Parents’ employment chance. Parental education and employment, race/ethnicity, and other
◆◆ Parents’ education factors are associated with children’s experience of economic insecurity.
◆◆ Family structure This fact sheet describes the demographic, socioeconomic, and
◆◆ Region
geographic characteristics of children and their parents. It highlights
◆◆ Residential instability
◆◆ Energy & housing insecurity
the important factors that appear to distinguish low-income and poor
5. Health insurance coverage children from their more advantaged counterparts.
6. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program (SNAP)
7. Endnotes

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How many children under age 18 live in low-income
What is the 2016 federal
families in the United States?
poverty threshold (FPT)?2
There are 72.4 million children under age 18 years in the United States. 41

59+19+22x
percent of those children live in low-income families.

Figure 1: Children by family income, 2016

Above
low income
59%
Poor
19%

Low income
41% Note: Above low income is
defined as at or above 200%
of the federal poverty threshold
◆◆ $24,339 for a family of four
with two children
◆◆ $19,318 for a family of three
with one child
◆◆ $16,543 for a family of two
with one child

Is a poverty-level income
enough to support a family?
Research suggests that, on average,
families need an income equal to
about two times the federal poverty
Near poor (FPT), poor is defined as below
threshold to meet their most basic
22% needs.3 Families with incomes
100% of FPT, and near poor is
between 100% and 199% of the below this level are referred to as
FPT. The low-income category
low income:
includes both the poor and the
near poor. ◆◆ $48,678 for a family of four
Percentages may not add up to  100 due to rounding.
with two children
◆◆ $38,636 for a family of three
with one child
Has the percentage of children living in low-income and ◆◆ $33,086 for a family of two
poor families changed over time? with one child

The percentage of low-income children decreased from 45 percent in 2010 These dollar amounts approximate
the average minimum income
to 41 percent in 2016, and has decreased from a high of 46 percent in 2012
families need to make ends meet,
(Figure 2).
but actual expenses vary greatly
by locality. In 2014, the cost of
Figure 2: Children living in low-income and poor families, 2010–2016 meeting basic needs for a family
of four required about $85,800
per year in Boston, Massachusetts;
Percent (%)
$61,500 in Akron, Ohio; $57,200
in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and $53,600
in McAllen, Texas.4

Near poor
100–200% FPL

Poor
50% - 100% FPL

Deep poverty
Less than 50% FPL

2 | National Center for Children in Poverty
Between 2010 and 2016, the overall Table 1: Number of children living in low-income and poor families,
number of children of all ages 2010–2016
decreased from 74.1 million to 72.4
2010 2016
million. The number of low-income
children decreased from 33.2 million Low income 33,216,701 29,842,412
to 29.8 million, the number of poor
Poor 16,810,053 14,047,290
children decreased from 16.8 million
to 14.0 million, and the number of Deep Poverty 8,139,897 6,193,661
children living in deep poverty, defined
as less than 50 percent of the federal
poverty threshold, decreased from 8.1
million to 6.2 million (Table 1).

Figure 3: Family income by age, 2016
How does the poverty status
of children compare to the Poor Near poor Above low income

rest of the population?
9%
The percentage of low-income 19%
13%
Low income 19% Low income
children under age 18 years surpasses Low income 29% 28%
41%
the percentage of low-income adults. 16%
22%
In addition, children are more than
twice as likely as adults 65 years and 71% 72%
59%
older to be poor (Figure 3).

Less than age 18 Ages 18 to 64 Ages 65+

Does the percentage of low- Figure 4: Percentage of children in low-income and poor families by age, 2016
income children vary by age Percent (%) Low income Poor Deep poverty
group? 50

The percentages of low-income and
44%
poor children under 18 years are 41 40 5.0 mil 43% 43%
10.5 mil
5.1 mil
percent and 19 percent, respectively, 37%
9.1 mil
yet there is variation by age group. 30
Younger children are more likely to
be low income and poor than older
20 21% 21%
children (Figure 4). 2.4 mil 2.4 mil 20%
4.9 mil 17%
4.1 mil
10
10% 9% 9%
1.1 mil 7%
1.1 mil 2.1 mil
1.7 mil
0
Under 3 Ages 3–5 Ages 6–11 Ages 12–17

www.nccp.org | 3
Does the percentage of children in low-income families vary by race/ethnicity?
As Figure 5 illustrates, the Figure 5: Race/ethnicity among children by family income, 2016
percentages of low-income and Percent (%)
poor children under 18 vary by 100 White
race and ethnicity: Hispanics 51% 35% 31%
Black
comprise the largest share of all
80
low-income children (36 percent, or Hispanic

10.5 million) and poor children (36 Asian
60 24%
percent, or 5.0 million).5 20% American Indian

Other
Black, American Indian, and 40 13%
36% 36%
Hispanic children are dispropor- 25%
tionately low income and poor 20
(Figure 6).
5% 3% 3%
1% 1% 1%
5% 5% 5%
0
Total Low income Poor

Percentages may not add up to  100 due to rounding.

Figure 6: Percentage of children in low-income and poor families by race/ethnicity, 2016

Percent (%) Low income Poor Deep poverty
80

70

60
61% 60%
59%
50

40
40%
30 34% 35%
28% 28% 28%
20
17% 18% 19%
10 12% 12%
11% 9%
5% 4%
0
White Black Hispanic Asian American Other
Indian

Does the percentage of children in low-income families vary by parent nativity?6
Children of immigrants are more likely to be low-income than children of native-born parents (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Percentage of children in low-income families by parent nativity, 2016

51% 38%
9.3 million children with 20.3 million children with
immigrant parents live in native parents live in
low-income families. low-income families.

4 | National Center for Children in Poverty
What are the family characteristics of low-income and poor children?
Parent Employment7 Figure 8: Percentage of children in low-income and poor families by parent
Children with a full-time, employment and education, 2016
year-round employed parent are

30+9+7346+8770+8353+6634+3012
Percent (%) Low income Poor
less likely to live in a low-income
family, compared to children with 100
parents who work part time/part
year or who are not employed 80 86%
82%
(Figure 8).
71% 68%
60 65%
Nevertheless, many low-income 50%
and poor children have parents 40 44%
who work full time. About half 29%
32%
28%
20
(53.5 percent) of low-income
children and 32.0 percent of poor 8% 11%
0
children live with at least one parent Full time, Part time Not Less than High school Some
employed full time, year round. year round or employed high school degree college or
part year degree more
Parent Education8
Higher levels of parental education
decrease the likelihood that a child Figure 9: Parent education among children by family income, 2016
will live in a low-income or poor Some college or more High school degree Less than high school degree
family. Among children with at
least one parent with some college
or additional education, 28 percent
live in low-income families and
48% 40%
11 percent in poor families. By
contrast, among children whose
33%
parents have less than a high 31%
school degree, 82 percent live in
low-income families and 50 percent
live in poor families (Figure 8). 21% 27%

At the same time, significant shares Low income Poor
of low-income and poor families
with children are headed by
parents with at least some college Figure 10: Percentage of children in low-income and poor families by family
education, as shown in Figure 9. structure, 2016

Family Structure Children residing Children residing Children residing
About one-half of children (55 with both parents with a single parent with other relatives
percent) in low-income families—
16.3 million—and 47 percent of
children in poor families—6.6
million—live with two parents.
Children who live with two parents
are much less likely to be poor or
low income compared to children
who live with one parent or neither 32% 13% 69% 41% 50% 22%
parent (Figure 10). low income poor low income poor low income poor

www.nccp.org | 5
Does the percentage of low-income children vary by where they live?
Region
The percentage of low-income children varies substantially by region (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Percentage of children in low-income families by region, 2016

Northeast
Midwest 4.1 million
West 5.8 million 35%
7.2 million 39%
41%

DC

South
12.5 million
45%

6 | National Center for Children in Poverty
Residential Instability and Home Ownership
Research suggests that stable housing is important for healthy child development.9 However, children living in
low-income families are 50 percent more likely as other children to have moved in the past year and nearly three
times as likely to live in families that rent, rather than own, a home (Figure 12).

Figure 12: Residential instability and home ownership by family income, 2016

Rent housing Moved within one year

65%

23%
18%
12%

Low income Above low income

Energy and Housing Insecurity
A much larger percent of low-income children experience energy and housing insecurity (Figure 13). Energy
and housing insecurity means that their families have difficulty paying these expenses each month, leading to
additional stress in the family.10

Figure 13: Energy and housing insecurity by family income, 2016
Low income Above low income

35% 47%

6%

1%

Energy Insecurity Housing Insecurity

www.nccp.org | 7
What portion of low-income Figure 14: Percentage of children uninsured in low-income and poor families by
age, 2016
children are covered by
health insurance? Percent (%) All Low Income Poor

Among all children under age 18, 10

6 percent of low-income children
8
and 6 percent of poor children are 8%
uninsured.11 Consistent with research 7%
6
suggesting older children in general 6% 6% 6%
are particularly at risk of being 4
5% 5% 5% 5%

uninsured,12 low-income and poor 4% 4% 4% 4% 4%
3%
children ages 12 through 17 years are 2
more likely to be uninsured compared
to younger low-income and poor 0
Total Under 18 Under 3 Ages 3–5 Ages 6–11 Ages 12–17
children (Figure 14).

Public insurance programs cover 40 Figure 15: Type of health insurance coverage among children by family income,
percent of all children, an increase 2010 & 2016
since 2010 (Figure 15). They reach Private insurance Public insurance No insurance
many more economically disadvan- Percent (%)
taged children than do private plans,
100
covering 73 percent of low-income 57% 56% 23% 21% 11% 11%
children and 84 percent of poor
80 84%
children. 65%
73% 78%

What portion of children 60

in low-income families
receive support from the 40
35% 40%
Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP)? 20

12%
Among low-income children, almost 8% 4% 6% 11% 6%
0
half (49 percent) receive SNAP 2010 2016 2010 2016 2010 2016
benefits (Figure 16). This percent has All children Low-income children Poor children
remained relatively unchanged since
Figure 16: Low-income children and poor children who receive support from the
2010, after peaking in 2012 at 51
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 2016
percent.

66% 49%

Poor Low income

8 | National Center for Children in Poverty
Endnotes
This fact sheet is part of the National Center for Mailman School of Public Health. Retrieved 8. Parent education is defined as the
Children in Poverty’s demographic fact sheet December 2017 from http://www.nccp.org/ education level of the most highly educated
series and is updated annually. Unless otherwise publications/pub_825.html. parent(s) living in the household. Parents
noted, analysis of the 2016 American Community can either have no high school degree, a high
Survey (ACS) was conducted by Yang Jiang. 4. Estimates from the Economic Policy school degree but no college, or some college
Estimates include children living in families with Institute’s Family Budget Calculator. or more.
at least one parent and children living apart from Retrieved November 2016 from http://www.
both parents. For children who do not live with epi.org/resources/budget/. 9. Aratani, Y. (2009). Homeless Children and
at least one parent (for example, children being Youth: Causes and Consequences. New York,
raised by grandparents), parental characteristics 5. In the most recent ACS, parents could NY: National Center for Children in Poverty,
are calculated based on those of the householder report children’s race as one or more of Columbia University, Mailman School of
and/or the householder’s spouse. Children the following: “White,” “Black,” “American Public Health. Retrieved December 2017
living independently, living with a spouse, in Indian or Alaska Native,” or “Asian and/ from http://www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/
the foster care system, or in group quarters, and or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.” In a separate text_888.pdf.
children ages 14 years and under living with only question, parents could report whether their
unrelated adults, are excluded from analyses of children were of Hispanic origin. For the data 10. Hernández, D., Jiang, Y., Phillips, D.,
parental characteristics. We would like to thank reported, children whose parent reported Carrión D., & Aratani, Y. (2016). “Housing
Renée Wilson-Simmons, NCCP Director, for their race as White, Black, American Indian Hardship and Energy Insecurity among
her advice on this fact sheet and Seth Hartig for or Alaska Native, or Asian and/or Hawaiian/ Native Born and Immigrant Low-Income
data checks and proofreading. Special thanks to Pacific Islander and their ethnicity as non- Families with Children in the United States.”
Tatiana Brito for layout and production. Support Hispanic were assigned a non-Hispanic Journal of Children and Poverty. 22(2): 77-92.
for this work was provided by the Annie E. Casey category of their race. Children who were Retrieved December 2017 from https://www.
Foundation. reported to be of more than one race were ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5016025/
assigned as Other. Children whose parent pdf/nihms758712.pdf
1. United States Census Bureau (2017). identified them as Hispanic were categorized
2016 American Community Survey 1-Year as Hispanic, regardless of their reported race. Schwartz, M., & and Wilson, E. (2008). “Who
Estimates, Poverty Status In the Past 12 Can Afford To Live in a Home?: A look at
Months. Washington, DC: United States 6. The variable “native-born parents” is data from the 2006 American Community
Census Bureau. Retrieved December 2017 defined to mean that both parents in the Survey” Washington, DC: United States
from https://factfinder.census.gov. In this fact family were born in the U.S. or its territories, Census Bureau. Retrieved December 2017
sheet, poverty is defined as family income or born abroad to American parent(s). The from https://www.census.gov/housing/census/
less than 100 percent of the federal poverty variable “immigrant parents” is defined to publications/who-can-afford.pdf.
threshold, as determined by the U.S. Census mean that at least one parent in the family is
Bureau; low income is defined as family either a U.S. citizen by naturalization or is not 11. People can report more than one type
income less than 200 percent of the poverty a citizen of the U.S. of insurance coverage. Children who were
threshold; deep poverty is defined as family covered by both private and public insurance
income less than 50 percent of the poverty 7. Parent employment is defined as the were categorized as having public insurance.
threshold. employment level of the parent in the Children not covered by private or public
household who maintained the highest health insurance at the time of the survey are
2. The U.S. Census Bureau issues the poverty level of employment in the previous year. considered uninsured.
thresholds annually. Thresholds vary by Parents can either have no employment in
family size and composition. See http:// the previous year, part-year or part-time 12. Schwarz, S.W.. (2009). Adolescent Mental
www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/ employment, or full-time, year-round Health in the United States. New York, NY:
demo/income-poverty/historical-poverty- employment. Part-year or part-time National Center for Children in Poverty,
thresholds.html for the complete 2016 poverty employment is defined as either working less Columbia University, Mailman School of
thresholds. than 50 weeks in the previous year or less Public Health. Retrieved December 2017
than 35 hours per week. Full-time, year- from http://www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/
3. Cauthen, N.K., & Fass, S. (2008). round employment is defined as working at text_878.pdf.
Measuring Income and Poverty in the United least 50 weeks in the previous year and 35
States. New York, NY: National Center for hours or more per week.
Children in Poverty, Columbia University,

To find comparable information for young children, see Basic Facts about Low-Income Children: Children under 9 years, 2016.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Koball, H., & Jiang, Y. (2018). Basic Facts about Low-Income Children: Children under 18 Years, 2016. New York: National
Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.