More than half of the states plus the District of Columbia had child poverty rates of 20 percent or higher last year (see map), new data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show, and in some states — like New Mexico and Mississippi — poverty affected as many as one in three kids. Such extensive child poverty unnecessarily damages the prospects of millions of children.
Relative to their better-off peers, poor children have poorer health, do less well in school, and complete fewer years of education. Over the long term, they are more likely to have chronic bad health and to work fewer hours and earn less as adults, which can contribute to a vicious cycle of poverty.
In addition, the stress of hunger, unsafe neighborhoods, and unstable housing, among other hardships that many poor families face, can have harmful physiological effects on children’s still-developing brains. This “toxic stress” can impede their social and emotional development and ability to learn.
States have a range of effective tools to reduce child poverty and the associated hardships. They can, for instance:
- Raise the state minimum wage in conjunction with creating or improving the state’s earned income tax credit.
- Provide quality early childhood education to help boost the future prospects of children in poor families while allowing their parents to work and build a better future for them.
- Connect more poor children to a full range of federal supports, including nutrition, housing, and health care.