Report Finds Housing Assistance Plays a Growing Part in Reducing Child Poverty

A new report from Child Trends, “Lessons From a Historic Decline in Child Poverty,” finds that child poverty rates decreased from one in four children in 1993 to one in 10 children in 2019. Factors associated with this decline include changes in the labor market, like increased state minimum wages and decreased unemployment; changes in demographic factors, like fewer teen births; and changes to government safety net programs. Housing assistance, in particular, has played a growing part in reducing child poverty. In 1993, housing assistance kept 290,000 children out of poverty compared to 790,000 children in 2019. The authors find child poverty has decreased significantly among almost all sub-groups, with the exception of children whose parents lack stable employment. This finding may be a result of the increasing number of work-based assistance programs, which require adults to work a minimum number of hours to receive assistance.

Researchers used the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) – a metric that accounts for both income and government benefits – to assess changes in child poverty over time. Overall, child poverty decreased 59% between 1993 and 2019, with 27.9% of children experiencing poverty in 1993 compared to 11.4% in 2019. Deep child poverty has seen a similar reduction, falling from 7.3% in 1993 to 3.2% in 2019.

The report finds that social safety net programs have played a key role in reducing child poverty rates since 1993. The social safety net includes programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Social Security, and housing assistance. Over the years examined, the role of the social safety net grew substantially. In 1993, the social safety net kept 2 million children out of poverty; by 2019, it kept 6.5 million out of poverty. In 2019, the EITC, Social Security, SNAP, and housing assistance played the largest roles in keeping children out of poverty. Housing assistance has increasingly played a role in preventing child poverty, protecting 790,000 children from poverty in 2019 compared to 290,000 in 1993.

Researchers also assessed poverty reductions across subgroups by race and ethnicity, nativity, family structure, and parental employment. Among nearly every group, poverty decreased at similar rates. Poverty among white children, Hispanic children, Black children, and Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children all decreased between 63% and 66% during the study period. Because poverty rates across racial groups were previously unequal, however, these reductions did little to address existing inequalities. In 2019, poverty rates for Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic, and white children were 27%, 18%, 19%, and 7%, respectively. One subgroup – children without stably employed parents – did not experience the same rate of decline compared to other subgroups. Child poverty decreased by 28% for this subgroup, and deep child poverty rates remained the same. This result can likely be attributed to an increased reliance on using work requirements to determine eligibility for assistance programs, leaving aid unavailable to families who lack stable employment.

Despite large reductions in child poverty since 1993, the report finds that disparities in child poverty persist and that the social safety net is often inaccessible for families with the lowest incomes. The authors make several recommendations about ways to reduce child poverty for the most vulnerable families, including creating social safety programs based on the needs of children rather than parental characteristics and removing administrative barriers to participating in government programs.

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