Child Poverty Rises in 2000s

The percentage of U.S. children living in poverty increased dramatically between 2000 and 2010. The highest proportion of poor children live in counties with small cities.

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The number of children living in poverty in rural communities increased by 200,000 between 2000 and 2010, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures.

The number and percentage of children (those under 18) living below the federal poverty line increased across the country in the first ten years of the decade. The chart above shows the percentage increase in childhood poverty in the U.S. as a whole and in rural, urban and small city counties. 

Average child poverty in the nation increased from 16.2 percent to 21.6 percent. There was considerable variation based on geography.

The largest increase in the percentage of those under 18 living in poverty took place in counties containing small cities (between 10,000 and 50,000 people). The rate there increased 6.6 percentage points, to 25.1 percent.

The child poverty rate in rural counties increased 6 percentage points; and in the cities, it rose 5.3 percentage points. 

In 2000, approximately two in ten rural children lived in poverty. By the end of the decade, that figure had risen to nearly three in ten.

But where did child poverty increase more? 

The map below shows all U.S. counties divided into five equal groups based on the change in the child poverty rates from 2000 to 2010. 

Dark blue counties had an increase in their child poverty rates of 8.7 percentage points or more, well above the national average increase of 5.4 points.

Light blue counties, on the other hand, experienced an increase of less than 2.5 percentage points between 2000 and 2010.

Click on the map to see a much larger version

The majority of counties in Michigan, through the mid-South to Florida and from Missouri to North Carolina experienced significant increases in their child poverty rates. 

The western Great Plains and the lower northeast experienced a lower increase in their child poverty rates during the same time period.

The table below shows the 25 counties with the highest child poverty rates in 2010.

(Note: In this story, urban counties are those considered metropolitan by the federal Office of Management and Budget. Rural counties are those that are “non-core” according to the OMB. Small city counties are “micropolitan”; they have cities that range between 10,000 and 50,000 residents.)


Roberto Gallardo is an assistant extension professor and economic development specialist at the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University.


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