Children in poverty

Percentage of people under age 18 in poverty.

The 2021 County Health Rankings used data from 2019 for this measure.

Reason for Ranking

Children in Poverty captures an upstream measure of poverty that assesses both current and future health risk. Poverty and other social factors contribute a number of deaths comparable to leading causes of death in the US like heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer.[1] While repercussions resulting from poverty are present at all ages, children in poverty may experience lasting effects on academic achievement, health, and income into adulthood. Low-income children have an increased risk of injuries from accidents and physical abuse and are susceptible to more frequent and severe chronic conditions and their complications such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, ADHD, behavior disorders, cavities, and anxiety than children living in high income households.[2-4]

Key Measure Methods

Children in Poverty is a Percentage

Children in Poverty is the percentage of people under age 18 living in poverty.

Children in Poverty is Created Using Statistical Modeling

Data come from the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program, which uses data from the American Community Survey; estimates are produced using complex statistical modeling. Using modeling allows the generation of more stable estimates for places with small population or survey counts. For more technical information on Children in Poverty estimates please see their methodology.

Children in Poverty by Race and Ethnicity Uses a Different Data Source than Overall County Estimates

In the data table for Children in Poverty, we report rates for American Indian & Alaska Native, Asian & Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic White children. The rates for race and ethnic groups come from the American Community Survey using combined five-year estimates from 2014-2018.


The numerator is the number of people under age 18 living in a household whose income is below the poverty level. Poverty status is defined by family; either everyone in the family is in poverty or no one in the family is in poverty. The characteristics of the family used to determine the poverty threshold are: number of people, number of related children under 18, and whether or not the primary householder is over age 65. Family income is then compared to the poverty threshold; if that family’s income is below that threshold, the family is in poverty. For more information, please see Poverty Definition and/or Poverty.


The denominator is the total number of people under age 18 in a county.

Can This Measure Be Used to Track Progress

This measure can be used to track progress with some caveats. Modeled estimates have specific drawbacks with regard to their usefulness in tracking progress in communities. Modeled data are not particularly good at incorporating the effects of local conditions, such as health promotion policies or unique population characteristics, into their estimates. Counties trying to measure the effects of programs and policies on the data should use great caution when using modeled estimates. In order to better understand and validate modeled estimates, confirming this data with additional sources of data at the local level is particularly valuable.

Nationally, the rates of children in poverty have changed pretty dramatically over the last decade. The percent of children in poverty rose significantly from 2008 to 2012 but has been falling since. It is important to note these national trends as you are assessing change in your own community.

Data Source

Years of Data Used


Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates

The US Census Bureau, with support from other federal agencies, created the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program to provide more current estimates of selected income and poverty statistics than those from the most recent decennial census. The main objective of this program is to provide updated estimates of income and poverty statistics for the administration of federal programs and the allocation of federal funds to local jurisdictions. These estimates combine data from administrative records, intercensal population estimates, and the decennial census, along with direct estimates from the American Community Survey, to provide consistent and reliable single-year estimates. These model-based single-year estimates are more reflective of current conditions than multi-year survey estimates. At the county level, SAIPE provides estimates on children ages 5-17 in families in poverty, children under age 18 in poverty, all people in poverty, and median household income. Estimates are created for school districts, counties, and states.

Digging Deeper
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We recommend starting with the Small Area Income & Poverty Estimates website, which contains information on poverty by age and gender. Another resource is the Community Commons Health Equity Assessment Report, which maps children in poverty at the census tract level. You will need to log in to access the Health Equity Assessment Report, but the registration process is simple.

You can calculate poverty status by age and race using tables B17020A-G. These tables can be accessed at For many communities you can access the same tables at the census tract, or census block level.


[1] Galea S, Tracy M, Hoggatt KJ, DiMaggio C, Karpati A. Estimated deaths attributable to social factors in the United States. AJPH. 2011;101(8):1456-1465.
[2] McCarty AT. Child poverty in the United States: A tale of devastation and the promise of hope. Soc. Compass. 2016;10(7):623-639.

[3] Hair NL, Hanson JL, Wolfe BL, Pollak SD. Association of child poverty, brain development, and academic achievement. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(9):822-829.
[4] Dreyer, B. P. (2013). To create a better world for children and families: the case for ending childhood poverty. Academic pediatrics13(2), 83-90.

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When it comes to developing and implementing solutions to problems that affect communities, evidence matters. The strategies below give some ideas of ways communities can harness evidence to make a difference locally. You can learn more about these and other strategies in What Works for Health, which summarizes and rates evidence for policies, programs, and systems changes.

Provide financial assistance to working parents, or parents attending school, to pay for center-based or certified in-home child care
Support subsidized asset accumulation programs in which deposits by low and moderate income participants are matched by program sponsors; withdrawals must be used for qualified expenses to retain matching funds
Provided work supports for low income individuals and families (e.g., job search assistance, transitional jobs, subsidized child care, health insurance, etc.); participants worked at least 30 hours/week
Establish dedicated child development accounts (CDAs) to build assets over time with contributions from family, friends, and sometimes, supporting organizations; also called children’s savings accounts (CSAs)

The County Health Rankings provide a snapshot of a community’s health and a starting point for investigating and discussing ways to improve health. Select a state and a measure below to see what’s happening locally.