Acton Institute Powerblog

7 Figures: National Academies report on child poverty

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

In a massive new 599-page study, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Board on Children, Youth, and Families produced a report on the costs of child poverty in the United States and the effectiveness of current efforts aimed at reducing poverty.

Here are seven figures from the report you should know:

1. In 2015, the latest year for which estimates were available, more than 9.6 million U.S. children (13.0 per cent) lived in families with annual incomes below a poverty line defined by the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). About 2.1 million children (2.9 per cent) lived in “deep poverty,” defined as having family resources below half of the poverty-based line.

2. Child poverty rates were much higher for Black children (18 percent) and Hispanic children (22 percent) than for non-Hispanic White children (8 percent); for children in single-parent families (22 percent) than for those in two-parent families (9 percent); for children in immigrant families (21 percent) than for those in non-immigrant families (10 percent); and for children in families with no workers (62 percent) than for those in families with part-time workers (28 percent) or with full-time workers (7 percent).

3. The two refundable tax credits—the EITC and the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit—are the most successful at alleviating poverty. The report estimates that the elimination of these tax credits would raise SPM child poverty to 18.9 percent, an increase of 5.9 percentage points or 4.4 million children. In the absence of SNAP benefits, the child poverty rate would have increased to 18.2 percent.

4. During the 1967–2016 period, child poverty rates varied with both business cycles and changes in social benefit programs. Government tax and transfer programs reduced child poverty modestly between 1967 and 1993, but they became increasingly important after 1993 because of increases in government benefits (mainly the Earned Income Tax Credit) targeted at the poor and near-poor. Between 1993 and 2016, SPM poverty fell by 12.3 percentage points, dropping from 27.9 to 15.6 percent.

5. The decline in two-parent family structure is the single biggest factor associated with the increase in child (official) poverty between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. However, child poverty has fallen since the early 1990s, despite continuing increases in single parenthood. This more recent decline in child poverty is most strongly associated with increases in maternal employment.

6. Men who grew up in poverty are twice as likely as adults to have been arrested, and among women early childhood poverty was associated with a six-fold increase in the likelihood of bearing a child out of wedlock prior to age 21.

7. Programs producing the largest reductions in child poverty are estimated to cost the most. Almost all of the committee-developed program options that lead to substantial poverty reduction were estimated to cost at least $20 billion annually.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).