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Measuring child poverty in the United States

Millions of American children live in families with incomes below the poverty line. A wealth of evidence suggests that a lack of adequate family economic resources compromises children’s ability to grow and achieve success in adulthood, hurting them and the broader society as well. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine were tasked by Congress with conducting a comprehensive study of child poverty in the United States, and identifying evidence-based programs and policies for reducing the number of children living in poverty—including those living in deep poverty—by half within 10 years. The committee appointed by the National Academies to conduct this study produced a consensus report, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, from which the three articles in this issue are drawn. This article addresses issues associated with measuring child poverty.


  • The Supplemental Poverty Measure uses the best available approach to calculating the poverty rate by defining family resources to include not only cash income, but also near-cash government supports and tax benefits, all net of tax payments.
  • While child poverty rates fell by nearly half over the past 50 years, they remain high; an estimated 13 percent of children were poor in 2015, based on the adjusted Supplemental Poverty Measure.
  • The Census Bureau could create a more accurate poverty measure by using administrative data to adjust for underreporting of benefits and by including an estimate of the effect of health care coverage on poverty.


Child Poverty, Children, Poverty Measurement, U.S. Poverty Measures