U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Children in Poverty

In 2008, more than 14 million children under 18 years of age lived in households with incomes below 100 percent of the U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty threshold ($22,025 for a family of four in 2008); this represents 19.0 percent of all children in the United States. Poverty affects many aspects of a child’s life, including living conditions, nutrition, and access to health care. A number of factors affect poverty status, and a significant racial/ethnic disparity exists. In 2008, 34.7 percent of Black children and 30.6 percent of Hispanic children lived in households with incomes below 100 percent of the poverty threshold, compared to 10.6 percent of non-Hispanic White children.

Single-parent families are particularly vulnerable to poverty. In 2008, 43.4 percent of children living in a female-headed household experienced poverty, as did 20.5 percent of children living in a male-headed household. Only 9.9 percent of children living in married-couple families lived in poverty (data not shown). Also, younger children are more likely than older children to experience poverty. In 2008, 21.8 percent of children under 5 years of age lived in households with incomes below 100 percent of the poverty threshold, while the same was true of 17.2 percent of children aged 5–17 years.

A number of Federal programs work to protect the health and well-being of children living in low-income families. One of these is the National School Lunch Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. The program provides nutritionally-balanced low-cost or free lunches to children based on household poverty level. In 2008, the program served free lunch to 15.4 million children and reduced-price lunch to another 3.1 million children. This represents 60.1 percent of all lunches served in participating schools.1

1 United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Child nutrition tables: National-level annual summary tables. Available online: http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/cnpmain. Accessed November, 2009.

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