Poverty Rates Unchanged for Rural Children

Last Updated: September 24, 2014

This article appeared in the September 2014 Rural Policy Matters.

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Overall poverty rates in the U.S. fell in 2013 for the first time since 2006. But with 45.3 million people living in poverty, the 2013 poverty rate of 14.5% is still two percentage points higher than it was in 2007, before the beginning of the Great Recession.

Earlier this month the U.S. Census Bureau released data related to Income, Income Inequality, Poverty, Health Insurance, and Computer and Internet Access from its American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS provides small area estimates for social and demographic characteristics including data related to educational attainment, housing, employment, commuting, and other factors.

In 2013, the U.S. median household income was ($52,250), meaning half of households were above and half below this level.

While overall poverty rates fell slightly, rates remained the same in 42 states. In New Hampshire and Wyoming both poverty rates and the number of people living in poverty dropped slightly. In New Jersey, New Mexico, and Washington State both the number and percentage of people in poverty increased.

Child Poverty

Rates of overall child poverty fell very slightly between 2012 and 2013, from 22.6% to 22.2%. But despite the slight decline, child poverty rates remain higher than they were in 2007 at the onset of the Great Recession when 18.0% of American children lived in poverty. Child poverty rates were also higher in 2013 than they were at the official end of the recession in 2009 when the rate was 20.0%.

A brief released last week by the Carsey School of Public Policy explores the child poverty data in the ACS.

The brief is "Cause for Optimism? Child Poverty Declines for the First Time Since Before the Great Recession," by Marybeth Mattingly, Jessica A Carson, and Andrew Schaefer. The authors find that, except in the Northeast where child poverty rates were already lowest, rates fell in all geographic regions of the country. Child poverty rates increased in New Jersey, New Mexico, and West Virginia and decreased in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas, and Wyoming.

At 34.0% Mississippi had the highest children poverty rate, followed by New Mexico at 31.2%.

Racial/ethnic disparity

Poverty has historically varied dramatically by race-ethnicity. These variations persist in 2013 data. “Cause for Optimism?” reports that Asian children face the least likelihood of living in poverty, with a rate of 13.1%. Rates for non-Hispanic white children are 13.5%. These rates are about one third of the 39.1% rate at which Black children live in poverty, and significantly less than the rate of 32.8% for Hispanic children. Children of other or multiple races have a child poverty rate of 30.4%.

Between 2012 and 2013 overall child poverty rates fell for all racial-ethnic groups except non-Hispanic whites. The decline was less for black children than Hispanic and other/multiple race children.

Urban/rural/suburban complexity

“Cause for Optimism?” notes that the decrease in child poverty occurred primarily in urban areas, “where child poverty fell by 0.5 percentage point.” Rates in suburban and rural areas did not change significantly. The brief defines urban as the principal city of a metropolitan statistical area; suburban places are those within a metropolitan area, but not the principal city; and rural places are those not within a metropolitan area.

Despite the slight decline in child poverty in urban areas, urban children experience the highest rates of poverty at 29.1%. In rural places, 26.2% of children live in poverty, while in suburban places 17.2% of children live in poverty.

Yet this data masks important information about child poverty. The brief finds, for example, that while a higher percentage of urban children live in poverty, a larger number of suburban children live in poverty. And, children of all racial-ethnic groups except Hispanic are more likely to live in poverty if they live in a rural place than if they live in either an urban or suburban place.

Region is an important factor in these differences. The poverty rate of black children in the South is higher, at 38.8%, than in other regions. Rural Southern black children live in poverty at a rate of 52.8%. Rural black children in the Midwest also experience the very high poverty rate of 43.4%.

Young child poverty

Across the U.S. nearly one in four young children (24.8%) under the age of six live in poverty. "Cause for Optimism?" reports that this rate fell slightly between 2012 and 2013, lifting about 300,000 young children above the poverty line. The decreases occurred in the Midwest, South, and West and in urban and suburban areas.

Region and place affect young child poverty rates. Children are most at risk of living in poverty in the rural South, where more than one-third (36.8%) of young children are poor.


The Carsey brief notes that it focuses on child poverty because research suggests that experiencing poverty before age 18 is particularly harmful and has implications for brain development as well as educational occupational, health, and family consequences. It also notes that families typically “need between 1.5 and 3.5 times the poverty threshold, depending on where they live, to cover the cost of a family’s minimum day-to-day needs.” Reducing poverty rates can reduce overall societal costs and improve outcomes for individuals and families.

“Cause for Optimism?” emphasizes the high percentages of young children who live in poverty and the need for solutions targeted to these children and their families.

Importantly, the brief notes that “rural poverty remains persistently high, suggesting the importance of anti-poverty efforts that consider rural challenges, like transportation, child care, lack of jobs, and in some regions, very high heating costs.” Further, the brief notes that the majority of rural Black children in the South live in poverty and that targeted interventions might be needed.

Read more:

The full brief:

Mattingly, Marybeth; Carson, Jessica A.; and Schaefer, Andrew, "Cause for Optimism? Child Poverty Declines for the First Time Since Before the Great Recession" (2014). The Carsey School of Public Policy at the Scholars' Repository. Paper 221. http://scholars.unh.edu/carsey/221

Census Bureau press release:


Read more from the September 2014
Rural Policy Matters.