The U.S. Census Bureau annual report on Income and Poverty in the United States: 2018 indicated that for the fourth straight year, the official poverty rate in the U.S. fell again from 12.3 percent to 11.8 percent accounting for 38.1 million people including 11.9 million children living in poverty.

Economic growth was a key factor in the U.S. poverty rate decline, but about one in eight American still lived below the poverty line. The Census Bureau figures are alarming for child advocates indicating that even with a slight drop, children are 54.4 percent more likely to live in poverty than adults. Children under the age of six still had the highest poverty rate at 17.2 percent or 4 million children in 2018. Nearly 11 million (29.4 percent) of black children and 18 million (23.4 percent) of Hispanic children live in poverty despite living with at least one worker in those households. The South was the only region in the U.S. to not have a decrease in the poverty rate in 2018 from the previous year. In 2018, the poverty rate for whites was 8.1 percent and much higher for African-Americans at 20.8 percent, Hispanic-Americans at 17.6 percent, and Asian-Americans at 10.1 percent.

The poverty rate is now the lowest it has been since 2001. The median household income remained statistically unchanged at $63,179. Taking into account race and ethnicity differences, the median income for African-American households last year was $41,361 compared to $70,642 for white households. Looking at educational attainment and income, the poverty rate for adults over age 25 without a high school diploma increased 1.4 percentage points to 25.9 percent. The Census Bureau figures show that the top 20 percent of households received more than half of all income in the U.S.

The Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) report, which takes into account many of the government programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals that are not included in the official poverty measure, rate was 13.1 percent in 2018, statistically unchanged. Key anti-poverty programs helped lift people above poverty including the refundable tax credits, SNAP which lifted 3.1 million people out of poverty in 2018 and TANF which assisted 438,000. SPM rates were higher than the official poverty rate in sixteen states and the District of Columbia last year. Social Security is the most important anti-poverty program which moved 27.3 million people out of poverty in 2018. These anti-poverty programs are effective in reducing child poverty with increased investments that the National Academies study, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, outlined policy and programs that could cut child poverty in half in ten years.

The U.S. Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which CWLA is part of, released a press statement calling for the U.S. to act to reduce child poverty in half within a decade. CWLA President & CEO, Christine James –Brown stated:

“The consequences of child poverty last a child’s entire life; poor children are more likely to fall behind the developmental norms for their age, to drop out of school, to have worse health as an adolescent and adult, and to have poor employment outcomes. When child poverty is this widespread, it puts our economy and our future at risk.”

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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