Federal government action kept millions of U.S. children out of poverty during 2020

Written by: Sarah Hughes
Date Posted: September 17, 2021

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week provide an initial glimpse at how conditions for families in the U.S. changed between 2019 and 2020, when the nation was gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new data from the Current Population Survey show that stimulus payments, expanded unemployment benefits, and other anti-poverty efforts during the first several months of the COVID-19 crisis kept millions of U.S. children from falling into poverty amid a global pandemic and near-record unemployment levels.  

The official poverty measure, which only considers a family’s income and cash benefits, showed a 1 percentage point increase in the overall poverty rate in the U.S. and a 2.7 percentage point increase in the child poverty rate between 2019 and 2020. When benefits such as stimulus payments, SNAP, and housing subsidies are included using an alternate measure called the Supplemental Poverty Measure, however, data show the overall poverty rate fell by 2.6 percentage points between 2019 and 2020, while the child poverty rate declined by nearly 3 percentage points. The federal poverty level for a family of four in 2020 was $26,200. 

Stimulus payments and expansions to unemployment insurance during the pandemic were particularly vital to keeping families afloat during the COVID-19 crisis. The first 2 rounds of stimulus payments prevented 3.2 million U.S. kids from falling below the poverty line in 2020, while unemployment insurance expansions kept 1.4 million children out of poverty. Stimulus payments were especially beneficial for children of color; they lowered the child poverty rates for Black children and Hispanic/Latino children in the U.S. by nearly 7 percentage points. 

The data released this week also showed a concerning rise in the uninsured rate for children experiencing poverty in the U.S. Between 2018 and 2020, the percent of children in poverty who lacked health coverage increased by 1.6 percentage points while uninsured rates for all kids remained unchanged. A Census Bureau analysis found that this increase was largely due to a decline in the percentage of children in poverty who received health insurance through public coverage programs like Medicaid. 

Colorado-specific data on poverty, income and health coverage were not released this year due to pandemic-related disruptions to data collection throughout 2020. The Census Bureau will release experimental state-level estimates later this fall, which will likely provide only a limited understanding of how the pandemic affected poverty and health coverage among kids in our state. 

Sarah Hughes

About Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes is Vice President of Research Initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. In this role, she leads the organization’s research and data analysis efforts, including the development and publication of the annual KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report, and provides research and data support to inform and advance the Children’s Campaign’s policy agenda. Prior to joining the Children’s Campaign, Sarah worked in communications and spent several years working and volunteering with kids in various capacities. She holds a Master of Social Work with a specialization in Advocacy, Leadership and Social Change from the University of Illinois and a B.S. in Business and Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis.