Child Poverty Rates and Family Structure


GirlThe U.S. Census Bureau released its annual household income report, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011 on September 12.The report presents data on income, poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States.

Research shows children in families receiving child support payments are less likely to be poor. Because of the connection between child support and poverty, federal and state child support professionals can use the data to develop priorities and projects that will best serve families.

Child Poverty

Census Bureau data from the report indicate that the number and rate of children living in poverty has leveled off. There were 16.1 million (21.9 percent) children under 18 years old living in poverty in 2011.1 In 2011, 7.3 million children, or 9.8 percent, were living in deep poverty (those with income below one-half of the federal poverty threshold). Of all children in poverty 45 percent were children in deep poverty. Child poverty rates are highest among black, Latino, and American Indian children. Across the states, official child poverty rates range from 9 percent in New Hampshire to 31 percent in Mississippi. Although the economy is recovering, the child poverty rate rose in seven of the last 10 years.

Employment and Earnings

Employment and earning statistics give child support professionals an idea of whether noncustodial parents are working and earning income to pass on to their children. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of men working full time, year-round with earnings increased by 1.7 million to about 58 million. That number is 5 million fewer than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession. The number of women working full time, year-round increased by 0.5 million to about 43.7 million, but was 1.9 million fewer than in 2007.

Real median household income declined between 2010 and 2011, a second consecutive annual decline. The real median income for all households was 8.1 percent lower in 2011 than in 2007 and 8.9 percent lower than the median household income peak in 1999. The real median earnings of both men and women working full time, year-round declined 2.5 percent between 2010 and 2011. Women continue to have lower median earnings. Women who worked full time, year-round earned 77 percent ($37,118) of that for men working full-time, year-round ($48,202).

Health Insurance

The percent of people without health insurance coverage declined from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7 in 2011.The number and percentage of children without health coverage remained level in 2010 and 2011 at 7 million children, or 9.4 percent. Children 12 to 17 had a higher uninsured rate than those under 12. Children in poverty were more likely to be uninsured (13.8 percent) than all children.
All state agency-processed child support cases must include an order for the child’s medical support to include establishing and enforcing private or public health care coverage; cash payments by either parent to fund premiums, co-payments and extraordinary or uncovered medical expenses; or cash payments for Medicaid cost reimbursement. Health insurance coverage statistics assist child support professionals in understanding whether parents and children have health insurance and can be used to target medical support efforts.

Family Structure

Family structure is important to the well-being of children. Parents and family life influence a child’s well-being throughout early development and into adulthood. The family unit plays an instrumental role in cognitive, social and emotional development. Research shows that children born into intact married parent families are more likely to thrive economically, socially and psychologically. Having children outside of marriage is associated with higher child poverty, poorer educational outcomes for children, and greater public costs, including increased child support enforcement expenditures.
According to the Census, children in married households are the least likely to be in poverty, at 11 percent.2 Children living in single-mother households have poverty rates more than twice that of children in single father homes (48 percent vs. 22 percent). Forty-seven percent of children living in different-sex cohabiting households experience poverty. Children of same-sex cohabiting households experience poverty at a rate of 29 percent, regardless of parents’ sex.3


  1. In 2011, the poverty threshold for a family of one adult and two children was $18,123, and for one adult $11,702.
  2. Poverty levels for same-sex and different-sex cohabiting households are based on the income of the household head only and do not include the income of cohabiting partners.
  3. Williams, S. (2012). "Child Poverty in the United States," 2010 (FP-12-17). National Center for Family & Marriage Research.

Contact Us

For more information or to request technical assistance on state or federal child support policies and programs, please send a message to Children & Families staff. As a membership organization serving state legislators and legislative staff, we do not respond to inquiries or provide legal advice related to individual child support or family law cases.

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