urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Immigration and Child and Family Policy

Read complete document: PDF


PrintPrint this page
Share:
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Digg Share on Reddit
| Email this pageE-mail
Document date: September 14, 2006
Released online: September 14, 2006

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

The text below is a portion of the complete document.


The number of U.S. immigrants has more than tripled over the past 35 years, as has the number of children with immigrant parents. The share of children under age 18 with at least one immigrant parent was only 6 percent in 1970; today it is over 20 percent. Many U.S. child and family policies were designed during the 1960s—the Great Society era and a time of relatively low immigration. The characteristics of low-income families today are markedly different than they were when Great Society programs were enacted. A large and growing share of low-income children lives in immigrant families. These families are mostly two-parent families and generally have at least one working parent; a significant share of immigrant parents, however, is undocumented with limited formal education and English skills. Thus, while low-income immigrant families with children are mostly working families, the low-skilled jobs in which the parents work result in high poverty and hardship rates for these children.

This report assesses how the changing demographics of the low-income child population are affecting child and family policies in the United States. The report draws on findings from more than a dozen studies commissioned under the Urban Institute's Assessing the New Federalism project during the late 1990s and early 2000s. The findings in these reports are based on analyses of data from the U.S. Census, various years of the Current Population Survey (CPS), and the 1999 and 2002 National Survey of America's Families (NSAF). The NSAF, the core survey for the Assessing the New Federalism project, provides extensive information on the demographics of parents and children—including their nativity and country of birth, as well as income, poverty, economic hardship, and participation in public benefit programs. Data on the citizenship and legal status of parents and children are drawn from the census and CPS; Urban Institute researchers have assigned legal status to noncitizens in these data.1 The census provides data on languages spoken by immigrants and their children, as well as English proficiency and school attendance.

Children of immigrants are defined consistently throughout the Urban Institute's research as children with at least one parent born outside the United States.2 Children's circumstances vary greatly depending on where their parents were born, and some of these variations are discussed in this report. But there are also great similarities among children from immigrant backgrounds, particularly within the low-income population. In these analyses, low-income children are those living in families with incomes below twice the federal poverty level (FPL), or about $38,000 for a family of four in 2004. Many public programs have eligibility levels between 100 and 200 percent of FPL, including the Food Stamp Program, Medicaid, the Women Infants and Children Program, and the National School Lunch Program.

Notes from this section of the report

1. For a description of the methods underlying assignment of legal status to noncitizens in these data sources, see Passel (2005); Passel and Clark (1998); and Passel, Van Hook, and Bean (2004, 2006). Legal status was assigned to noncitizens in order to better estimate their eligibility for public benefits, as undocumented immigrants are generally ineligible for these programs.

2. In two-parent families, if either one or both parents are foreign-born, then the children are considered children of immigrants. Children of natives have either a single native-born parent or, in the case of two-parent families, two native-born parents. Children of Puerto Rican origin are not considered children of immigrants, as Puerto Rico is a U.S territory.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Immigrants


Usage and reprints: Most publications may be downloaded free of charge from the web site and may be used and copies made for research, academic, policy or other non-commercial purposes. Proper attribution is required. Posting UI research papers on other websites is permitted subject to prior approval from the Urban Institute—contact publicaffairs@urban.org.

If you are unable to access or print the PDF document please contact us or call the Publications Office at (202) 261-5687.

Disclaimer: The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Copyright of the written materials contained within the Urban Institute website is owned or controlled by the Urban Institute.

Email this Page