The rate of kids living in poverty is higher in the U.S. than in similarly developed nations.   

By Holly Lebowitz Rossi
Updated: January 14, 2019
Pixabay/Pexels

In the U.S., 21 percent of kids, or roughly 15 million, live below the federal poverty line—a greater rate than that of most developed nations. In fact, only Greece, Israel, Mexico, and Turkey have higher child poverty rates than the U.S.

Children are the poorest age group in America, according to a report published by the Children's Defense Fund in September 2018, which used U.S. Census Bureau data to rank states by highest child poverty rates. The federal poverty level for a family of four is defined as a household income of $25,100, although research shows families need twice that amount to meet their basic needs. 

The states with the largest percentages of poor children include: 

  • Louisiana — 306,513 or 28% of children 
  • New Mexico — 130,502 or 27.2% 
  • Mississippi — 189,541 or 26.8%
  • West Virginia — 93,758 or 25.9%
  • Alabama — 265,078 or 24.6% 

Despite their high ranking, Mississippi and New Mexico were among 16 states that demonstrated "statistically significant" drops in child poverty from 2016, according to Children's Defense. New Mexico, in particular, was once the worst in the nation for child well-being. A 2011 Kids Count Survey found more than 30 percent of children in the state were living in poverty, and nearly two-fifths had parents who lacked secure employment. 

''Aside from the fact the New Mexico economy has been so slow to turn around, the systems that generally serve people who are the working poor and suddenly lose their jobs or face greater hardship, all those systems have been strained beyond the max," Kim Posich, executive director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, told Parents in a previous interview. 

The report demonstrated that young children and children of color face poverty most often: Only four states have black child poverty rates under 20 percent.

The National Center for Children in Poverty calls poverty "the single greatest threat to children’s well-being." Growing up poor can interfere with a child's brain development and ability to learn, result in poor mental and physical health, and play a role in behavioral, emotional, and social problems. 

The majority of kids in low-income families have parents who work but struggle to meet their children's needs because of unreliable employment and low wages, according to the NCCP. Both Children's Defense and NCCP see public policy that supports working families as the way to end childhood poverty.

“Anti-poverty efforts like food assistance, public health insurance, and other programs are helping millions of children and families to thrive," said NCCP director Renée Wilson-Simmons, DrPH, in a 2018 statement. "But that also means our beliefs about what poverty looks like in America—about who deserves access to those programs and supports—have the power to help or harm their chances for success."

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