Latest Poverty Data: Children’s Health Insurance Down, Families’ Economic Security at Risk

The following statement can be attributed to Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

Washington, DC, September 10, 2019 (updated on November 8, 2019 with data from the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure for 2018)—The headline from today’s U.S. Census Bureau reports on poverty and health insurance is the decline in children’s health insurance coverage, breaking a decades-long trend of improvement, with 4.3 million children under age 19 uninsured (5.5 percent), up from 3.9 million (5 percent) in 2017. The data on poverty, which show an overall 2018 poverty rate of 11.8 percent, reveal modest improvement from 2017 in the official poverty rate for children but no improvement at all in the Census Bureau’s more complete child poverty rate, known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which includes non-cash help like food assistance. The picture would be far worse if many of the Trump Administration’s threats to health coverage, nutrition assistance, and families’ economic stability had not been defeated in Congress and the states.

Today’s Census data also likely show early evidence of the effects of one major threat that has not yet been defeated: the Trump Administration’s “public charge” rule that takes effect on October 15 unless it is stopped in court. The rule is already having a chilling effect on immigrants who are afraid to use benefits, even for their citizen children who are eligible and not covered by the rule. The sharp decline found by the Census in children’s health coverage, including a significant increase among Hispanic children, adds to other evidence that the rule is affecting children’s health coverage and poses risks for the nation’s future and our communities’ public health.

The data affirm—once again—that young people are the most likely to be poor, which has harmful and enduring consequences. Young adults age 18 to 24 face a poverty rate of 15.0 percent, while children under 18 face a rate of 16.2 percent. The picture for young children under age 5 is particularly bleak, with 17.7 percent living in poverty. The data also continue to show the effects of systemic racism on the economic security of children of color, with 23.7 percent of Hispanic children and 29.5 percent of Black children living in poverty.

The data underscore the important role of major public programs in attacking poverty. In 2018, SNAP lifted 1.38 million children out of poverty, and refundable tax credits did the same for 4.375 million children.

Yet all these positive policies are under attack. As a result, unfortunately, child poverty as well as racial and ethnic disparities could get significantly worse as the Trump Administration continues to radically change policies and programs. In addition to the public charge rule and other attacks on immigrant families, the administration’s larger regulatory agenda to reduce access to food, housing, and health insurance, along with rollbacks on civil rights protections and racial justice policies, stand to deeply harm the wellbeing of people with low incomes—particularly children—and exacerbate the systemic racism that contributes to disparate rates of poverty.

CLASP calls on policymakers to strengthen—not weaken—the core health, nutrition, housing, and economic security programs that help millions of children; address the circumstance of millions of low-wage earners; confront racial injustice; and remove systemic barriers that block access to economic security for millions of individuals and children.

On Wednesday, September 11, CLASP published a deeper analysis of these census reports along with policy recommendations.