Youth Poverty

Poverty remains a significant public health issue that affects millions of people living in the United States (see Poverty). In the U.S., youth living in poverty experience a wide range of negative outcomes across mental, physical, social, and cultural domains. Youth poverty, for example, has been linked to poor physical health such as low birth rates, growth stunting, malnutrition, frequent and severe chronic conditions (e.g., diabetes, asthma, and problems with hearing, vision, and speech), obesity, and morbidity.[1] Youth living in poverty are at an increased risk of experiencing mental health issues and cognitive challenges including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), conduct disorders, depression, and mood and anxiety disorders.[2] Educational risks associated with youth poverty have included lower rates of academic achievement, such as lower tests scores, decreased reading proficiency, and dropping out of school.[3] Additional adverse experiences associated with youth poverty have included increased exposure to violence, family turmoil, and separation from family.[4],[5] Children and adolescents in low-income households have also experienced high housing mobility, homelessness, and food insecurities (see Food Insecurity). Finally, people who experience poverty when young are more likely to experience poverty as an adult.[6],[7]
Definitions of poverty often relate to the inability to meet basics needs like food, clothing, and shelter based on monetary income. The most common measure of poverty in the U.S. is the Official Poverty Measure (OPM), which is calculated based on household income, age, the number of people living in each household, and the cost of living.[8] For example, the federal poverty threshold in 2021 for a single adult under the age of 65 years with no children was $14,097.[9]
Assessing information about poverty among youth is more complex because children are dependent on adult caretakers. In 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the poverty threshold for a household comprised of an adult and two related children under the age of 18 years was $21,831.[10] Knowing the percentage of youth in poverty provides valuable information about how young people in the region compare to those across the nation. The federal poverty threshold is limited, however, in that it is not adjusted for the local cost of living which is higher than the national average. For more information about how families are faring considering local conditions, see Self-Sufficiency Wage.
Approximately 17% of youth in the United States were classified as living in poverty in 2021.[11] Children of color were especially at risk in 2021, as 31% of Black children, 23% of Hispanic children, and 28% of American Indian/Alaska Native children experienced poverty compared to 11% of White children. Youth poverty for girls and boys under the age of 18 in the U.S. was similarly distributed (17%).[12] Previous research indicates that immigrant children were also disproportionately affected by poverty compared to children whose parents were born in the U.S.[13]
The data presented above describe youth living in poverty at 100% of the poverty threshold. For this report, ACS data were used to calculate the percentage of people under the age of 18 who were living in households with incomes that were below 200% of the federal poverty level since it is a better indicator of economic hardship. In 2021, the percent of youth below 200% of the federal poverty level in San Diego County, 31.9%, was higher than the percent in San Diego County overall below 200% of the federal poverty level, 25.3%. This is consistent with national trends,[14] and is likely because children usually do not bring in income, but more children in a household increase that household’s costs. Higher percentages of Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander youth were living below 200% of the federal poverty level compared to county youth overall (Figure 1). Youth with a reported disability and immigrants were also more likely to be below 200% of the federal poverty level than county youth overall (Figures 3 and 4).

Data Information
Data Source: 2021 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates from IPUMS USA.
  • Persons of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity may belong to any race group. All categories except Hispanic or Latino include persons for whom race is known but ethnicity is non-Hispanic or unknown.
  • Includes people where a poverty status can be determined. Poverty status cannot be determined for people in institutional group quarters (such as prisons or nursing homes), college dormitories, military barracks, and living situations without conventional housing (and who are not in shelters). Additionally, poverty status cannot be determined for unrelated people under age 15 (such as foster children) because income questions are asked of people age 15 and older and, if someone is under age 15 and not living with a family member, their income is unknown.
References
  1. Brooks-Gunn, J., & Duncan, G. T. (1997). The effects of poverty on children. The Future of Children, 7(2), 55-71.
  2. Fry, C. E., Langley, K., & Shelton, K. H. (2017). A systematic review of cognitive functioning among young people who have experienced homelessness, foster care, or poverty. Child Neuropsychology, 23(8), 907-934.
  3. Engle, P. L., & Black, M. M. (2008). The effect of poverty on child development and educational outcomes. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1136(1), 243-256.
  4. Halfon, N., Larson, K., Son, J., Lu, M., & Bethell, C. (2017). Income inequality and the differential effect of adverse childhood experiences in U.S. children. Academic Pediatrics, 17(7), s70-s78.
  5. Pascoe, J. M., Wood, D. L., Duffee, J. H., & Kuo, A. (2016). Mediators and adverse effects of child poverty in the United States. Pediatrics, 137(4), e1-e17.
  6. McCarty, A. T. (2016). Child poverty in the United States: A tale of devastation and the promise of hope. Sociology Compass, 10(7), 623-639.
  7. Moore, K. A., Redd, Z., Burkhauser, M., Mbwana, K., & Collins, A. (2002). Children in poverty: Trends, Definitions of poverty often relate to the inability to meet basics needs like food, clothing, and shelter based on monetary income. The most common measure of poverty in the U.S. is the Official Poverty Measure (OPM), which is calculated based on household income, age, the number of people living in each household and the cost of living.[7] In 2020, for example, the federal poverty level for a single adult under the age of 65 years with no children was $14,248.55.
  8. Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. (n.d.). Poverty Facts. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://poverty.umich.edu/research-funding-opportunities/key-issues/poverty-facts/
  9. U.S. Census Bureau. (2022). Poverty Thresholds. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-poverty-thresholds.html
  10. Ibid.
  11. The Annie E Casey Foundation. (2021). Children in poverty by race and ethnicity | KIDS COUNT Data Center. Retrieved August 1, 2023. https://datacenter.aecf.org/data/tables/44-children-in-poverty-by-race-and-ethnicity
  12. Statistica. (2022). Poverty Rate in the United States in 2021, by Age and Gender. Retrieved November 10, 2022 from https://www.statista.com/statistics/233154/us-poverty-rate-by-gender/
  13. McCarty, A. T. (2016). Child poverty in the United States: A tale of devastation and the promise of hope. Sociology Compass, 10(7), 623-639.
  14. U.S. Census Bureau. (n.d.). Poverty Rate of Children Higher Than National Rate, Lower for Older Populations. Retrieved February 28, 2023, from https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2022/10/poverty-rate-varies-by-age-groups.html
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Updated February 7, 2024