Children in Persistent Poverty

The economic situation of families that children are born into too often predetermines the opportunities they will have to lead productive lives. This is particularly troubling for children who are born into poverty. Indeed, about half of poor newborns will spend at least half of their childhood living below the poverty line. The effects can reproduce themselves generation after generation, leaving many American families caught in a vicious circle of poverty.

This video explores the ways persistent poverty affects children, adults, and society at large. It takes a look at the number of persistently poor children, the demographic groups most affected, and what happens to persistently poor children over time. And it suggests ways of shaping policies to help break the vicious circle and put more children and families on a path to economic prosperity and healthier lives.

Source material drawn from:

1. Childhood Poverty Persistence: Facts and Consequences

2. Childhood Poverty and Its Lasing Consequences

3. Child Poverty and Adult Success

4. The Poverty Clinic - The New Yorker

5. American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 study

6. Reducing Child Poverty in the United States

7. Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

8. Shonkoff, Jack, Andrew Garner, Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care, and Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Benjamin Siegel, Mary Dobbins, Marian Earls, Laura McGuinn, John Pascoe, and David Wood. 2012. “The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress.” Pediatrics 129(1): e232-246.

9. Duncan, Greg, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, and Pamela Kato Klebanov. 1994. “Economic Deprivation and Early Childhood Development.” Child Development 

This video was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation through the Urban Institute’s Low-Income Working Families Project, a multiyear effort that focuses on the private- and public-sector contexts for families’ well-being. We are grateful to them and to all our funders who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. Funders do not determine our research findings or the insights and recommendations of our experts. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

One in every five children currently lives in poverty, but nearly twice as many experience poverty sometime during childhood. Using 40 years of data, this analysis follows children from birth to age 17, then through their 20s, to examine how childhood poverty and family and neighborhood characteristics relate to achievement in young adulthood, such as completing high school by age 20, enrolling in postsecondary education by age 25, completing a four-year college degree by age 25, and being consistently employed from ages 25 to 30. Parents’ education achievement, residential stability, and neighborhood quality all relate to adult success.

Child Poverty and Adult Success

In this testimony before the District of Columbia City Council on adult literacy programs, Caroline Ratcliffe shares her findings on childhood poverty, how it relates to adult success, and the importance of parents’ educational attainment.

The Importance of Adult Educational Attainment for Parents and Children

In this hearing on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program before the Subcommittee on Nutrition of the US House Agriculture Committee, Caroline Ratcliffe describes findings from her research on childhood poverty, with a particular focus on how it relates to adult success. This research spotlights the obstacles poor children face—such as completing high school, graduating from college, and maintaining consistent employment—and helps policymakers understand what it would take to break the cycle of poverty.

How Does Child Poverty Relate to Adult Success?