Authors: David Murphey, Jonathan Belford, Susan Balding, Samuel Beckwith

In 32 states, the percentage of black children in poverty was at least twice as high as among non-Hispanic white children, according to 2017 data recently released from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. This represents all but one of the 33 states for which there were reliable estimates of the population of black children. In 18 states, the rate among black children was at least three times as high as among their white peers. In Nevada, the poverty rate among black children was more than four times as high, and in Minnesota it was more than five times as high.

Hispanic children were also at least twice as likely to live in poverty as their non-Hispanic white counterparts in 33 states. This number represents over three-quarters of the 41 states for which there were reliable estimates for Hispanic children. In 12 states, the poverty rate among Hispanic children was at least three times as high as among non-Hispanic white children. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, the poverty rate among Hispanic children was more than four times as high, and in Massachusetts it was more than five times as high.

Other notable state-level findings in 2017:

  • New Hampshire had the lowest proportion of children in poverty (10.3 percent), while Louisiana had the highest (28 percent).
  • Among non-Hispanic white children, the poverty rate was lowest in Maryland (5.5 percent) and highest in West Virginia (24.2 percent).
  • Among black children, the poverty rate was lowest in Colorado (16.7 percent) and highest in Louisiana (47.1 percent), excluding those states with unreliable estimates.
  • The poverty rate among Hispanic children was lowest in Alaska (11.1 percent) and highest in Alabama (40.1 percent), again excluding states with unreliable estimates.

Numerous social, historical, and policy factors have contributed to these racial/ethnic poverty gaps. Racial discrimination in such areas as home loans and hiring practices, and a history of school segregation, have exacerbated these disparities over time. The legacies of racism also account, in part, for the fact that black and Hispanic adults continue to have higher rates of unemployment and single-parenthood, and lower rates of college completion and homeownership, than their white counterparts, resulting in reduced income and wealth.

Being raised in poverty puts children at risk for a wide range of problems, including impaired cognitive, social, and emotional functioning, as well as poorer health. Child poverty is also associated with negative outcomes in adulthood, such as lower academic achievement, lower employment rates, poorer health, and deficits in working memory.

A number of strategies have shown promise in reducing child poverty. Most include bolstering family income directly through tax credits, higher wages, savings accounts, or conditional cash transfers; or supplementing income through programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Other strategies include helping parents gain the skills essential for higher-wage jobs.

The Child Trends DataBank has information on national trends in child poverty, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Center provides a breakdown of state trends.

Percentage of children under age 18 in poverty, by state and by race and ethnicity: 2017
Geography Total White alone, non-Hispanic Black alone Hispanic
United States 18.4% 11.1% 33.1% 26.3%
Alabama 24.6% 14.3% 41.1% 40.1%
Alaska 14.9% 8.8% * 11.1%
Arizona 20.8% 11.0% 27.8% 27.2%
Arkansas 22.5% 17.0% 35.9% 32.1%
California 18.1% 8.9% 28.6% 24.2%
Colorado 12.0% 7.4% 16.7% 19.9%
Connecticut 12.6% 6.0% 20.3% 25.6%
Delaware 18.5% 12.1% 28.0% *
Florida 20.3% 12.4% 31.7% 24.5%
Georgia 21.0% 10.7% 30.9% 32.5%
Hawaii 11.5% 8.5% * 17.5%
Idaho 15.3% 12.3% * 24.8%
Illinois 17.0% 10.2% 37.5% 20.2%
Indiana 18.4% 13.4% 40.0% 28.3%
Iowa 12.3% 8.6% * 21.9%
Kansas 14.8% 10.2% 40.0% 22.3%
Kentucky 22.4% 20.2% 34.6% 32.8%
Louisiana 28.0% 14.3% 47.1% 33.1%
Maine 13.1% 10.9% * *
Maryland 12.0% 5.5% 19.5% 17.1%
Massachusetts 13.5% 6.4% 24.0% 32.9%
Michigan 19.7% 13.4% 41.2% 27.4%
Minnesota 11.8% 6.3% 36.1% 23.7%
Mississippi 26.9% 13.2% 42.5% *
Missouri 18.6% 14.3% 37.6% 22.0%
Montana 14.7% 10.8% * 22.5%
Nebraska 14.1% 8.4% * 27.9%
Nevada 18.5% 9.2% 41.5% 21.8%
New Hampshire 10.3% 8.9% * *
New Jersey 13.9% 7.3% 25.6% 22.8%
New Mexico 27.2% 13.1% * 30.1%
New York 19.7% 12.6% 30.8% 28.4%
North Carolina 21.2% 11.5% 32.3% 36.6%
North Dakota 10.9% 6.1% * *
Ohio 20.1% 13.8% 42.1% 34.3%
Oklahoma 21.5% 15.5% 40.2% 29.6%
Oregon 16.5% 13.6% * 23.7%
Pennsylvania 17.0% 10.6% 32.7% 35.7%
Rhode Island 16.6% 7.6% * 34.8%
South Carolina 22.6% 12.3% 36.7% 37.7%
South Dakota 16.6% 9.1% * *
Tennessee 21.2% 14.9% 37.0% 34.1%
Texas 20.9% 8.7% 26.4% 28.8%
Utah 10.7% 7.6% * 21.7%
Vermont 13.8% 14.1% * *
Virginia 14.0% 8.5% 28.3% 18.8%
Washington 14.3% 9.4% 28.9% 25.2%
West Virginia 25.9% 24.2% * *
Wisconsin 14.5% 9.1% 35.9% 26.7%
Wyoming 13.3% 9.7% * *
* Percentage suppressed due to the confidence interval around the estimate being greater than or equal to 10 percentage points.

Notes: Data are from the 2017 American Community Survey 1-year estimates. The federal poverty level (FPL) is based on pre-tax income and does not include noncash benefits (such as food stamps) or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Poverty thresholds reflect family size and composition and are adjusted each year using annual changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). For instance, the poverty threshold was $24,858 in 2017 for a family of four with two children. Hispanic children may be of any race. White and black children do not include children of two or more races, and white children do not include Hispanic children.

Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau. (2018). American FactFinder (Tables CP03 & C17001H,B,I). Retrieved from https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml.