Childhood Poverty Persistence: Facts and Consequences

Low-Income Working Families Project, Urban Institute


Children born into poverty whose families continue to be poor for several years have worse adult outcomes than those born into higher-income families, according to this new brief by the Urban Institute. The study is the first to focus on the relationship between poverty status at birth and the persistence of childhood poverty with consequent outcomes in adulthood.

The authors found that 63 percent of children become adults without experiencing poverty; yet one in 10 children are consistently poor, spending nine to 18 years in poverty. Being born into poverty is a strong predictor for future poverty status, with 31 percent of white children and 69 percent of black children born into poverty living at least half their childhoods in poverty.

Large racial disparities exist between white and black children, with 70 percent of white children compared with 23 percent of black children never experiencing poverty. The brief states that 2 percent of white children and 18 percent of black children are poor for 14 to 18 years.  Additionally, there is an immense difference between poverty statuses at birth, with only 8 percent of white children compared with 40 percent of black children born into poverty.

As an individual spends more years in poverty, it becomes more likely that he or she will not complete high school or that he or she will have a child as a teen without being married, the study found.  Another major finding was that of men who spend less than nine years in poverty as children, 75 percent are consistently employed as adults, whereas of men who spend more than nine years in poverty, only 34 percent are consistently employed as adults.

The study surveyed people every year from 1968 to 1997 and every other year until 2005. Children were followed after leaving their parents’ households, allowing surveyors to examine their childhood experiences and adult outcomes through age 30.

With the data linking poverty status at birth and resulting adult outcomes, the authors suggest possible ways to use the information to change social policies.

Free, 12 pages.


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