Skip to main content
Rural Health Information Hub

Children Living in Poverty

The child poverty rate is a common measure of a child's overall well-being. The child poverty rate is measured as the percentage of children living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children living in poverty are at greater risk for negative outcomes such as poor academic achievement; school dropout; maltreatment and neglect; behavioral, social and emotional problems; physical health problems; and developmental delays. Research has shown that social and economic conditions and opportunities can shape children's health and development.

According to the Current Population Survey (CPS), the percentage of children living in families in deep poverty — defined as family income below half the federal poverty level — is higher in rural areas (12.2%) than in urban (9.2%). Not only are deep poverty rates among families with children higher than those in the overall population, but families with children have also experienced increasing rates of deep poverty over the last decade, especially in rural areas.

The highest rates of poverty among children are in rural areas of the Southwest; the historically poor regions of the rural Southeast, including Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta; and on American Indian/Alaska Native lands.

In the United States, the risk of poverty is greater for children than for any other age group. Poverty is often influenced by economic and social factors in the community, including high unemployment rates and lack of access to educational opportunities. Therefore, services integration programs may address underlying conditions, such as:

  • Food insecurity
  • Unstable housing
  • Lack of basic healthcare

Services integration programs for children may also focus on:

  • Early childhood development programs
  • Early childhood education programs
  • Afterschool programs
  • College preparatory programs
  • Employment training

Challenges to services integration for children living in poverty in rural communities include fragmentation among child and family service providers, a lack of consistent protocols for screening children, and limited early childhood behavioral health providers.

Resources to Learn More

The Forgotten Fifth: Child Poverty in Rural America
This report presents child poverty statistics in the rural U.S. and information on how child poverty is affected by various factors, including family, education, employment, and the government.
Author(s): O'Hare, W.
Date: 2009

Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4): Report to Congress, Executive Summary
This study provides data on the incidence and distribution of child abuse and neglect in the U.S. Key findings of the national study and implications are discussed.
Author(s): Sedlak, A., Mettenburg, J., Basena, M., Petta, I., McPherson, K., Greene, A., & Li, S.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families
Date: 2010

Mediators and Adverse Effects of Child Poverty in the United States
This report reviews research from a wide range of disciplines about the negative impact of poverty on the health and development of children. The American Academy of Pediatrics released an accompanying policy statement that provides recommendations for action to address the negative impact of the mediators outlined in this technical report.
Author(s): Pascoe, J.M., Wood, D.L., Duffee, J.H., & Kuo, A. (Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Council on Community Pediatrics)
Citation: Pediatrics, 137(4)
Date: 4/2016

Opportunity for All: Fighting Rural Child Poverty
This report describes the state of child poverty in rural America, the effect of existing federal programs on poverty, and strategies to address rural child poverty.
Organization(s): Council of Economic Advisers, Domestic Policy Council, and Office of Management and Budget
Date: 5/2015

Poverty and Child Health in the United States
This statement describes the state of child poverty in the United States and provides recommendations for individual physicians to improve the health of children living in poverty through routine screening for poverty risk factors. The statement also describes opportunities for public policy advocates to protect the health of children affected by poverty and to promote the economic security of their families.
Author(s): Council on Community Pediatrics
Citation: Pediatrics, 137(4)
Date: 4/2016