Child Poverty in America Affects More than 14 Million Children

Across America, the experiences shaping children’s lives are starkly different. Many children are getting the daily opportunities to learn and develop that they need, as well as an abundance of healthy food on their tables, and regular chances to play safely and grow their imaginations. But for far too many other children, families and communities are struggling to provide them the childhoods they deserve.

This is too often the reality for children living in rural America’s poverty-stricken pockets, where nearly 1 in 4 grows up in poverty. And the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have further crippled their ability to access food, healthcare and basic services.

Rural poverty in America is an emergency. Your support today can give a child growing up in poverty in America the opportunity for a brighter future. 

Poverty in America and the Childhood Equity Gap

When young children in the United States grow up in poverty, they are at higher risk of experiencing difficulties later in life – having poor physical and mental health, becoming teen parents, dropping out of school and facing limited employment opportunities. The data is alarming.

  • 17% of all children in America live in households that lack access to adequate food
  • More than half a million high school students, dropped out during the 17-18 school year
  • Nearly 180,000 babies were born to girls aged 15 to 19 in 2018
  • 21,467 babies died before their first birthday in 2018
A 2-year old girl stands in front of a rusty tractor in the lawn of her home in West Virgina.

Where Does Child Poverty in America Exist?

When you shine a light on where poverty has the strongest grip on children’s lives in America, it’s most often in our wide open spaces.

  • The most severe poverty is found in rural communities heavily clustered in the South, where more than three-quarters of impoverished counties are located. Mississippi alone is home to 13 rural counties with severe poverty, mainly in the Delta region.
  • Severe rates of rural poverty are also found in Georgia, Louisiana and South Dakota, where, in some counties, two-thirds or more of rural children live in poverty.
  • The vast majority of poor, rural African American children live in the South, where child poverty rates are also historically the highest.
  • Native American children, whose poverty is concentrated in the Southwest and Northern Plains, and Alaskan native children have the second highest rural poverty rate at almost 40%.
  • One-third of rural Hispanic children are poor; their poverty is concentrated in the South and West.

Conditions in some rural communities rival those in developing countries. In much of Appalachia, for example, many families live on less than $2 a day, and life expectancy is lower than in Bangladesh and Vietnam.

But location does not have to determine destiny. There are poor, rural counties across America that are beating the odds and giving their children the foundation they need for a successful future. In Lauderdale County, Tennessee, where the poverty rate is 35% and 1 in 3 kids are growing up impoverished, the school district worked hard to ensure the success of Lauderdale’s children--and it's paid off. The county is among the nation’s top for on-time high school graduation.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in America

COVID-19 could impact children in the communities least equipped to provide support in many ways.

Health – Poorer children tend to have more underlying health conditions, such as asthma, and therefore may be at higher risk for severe illness.

Hunger – 30 million children in the U.S. depend on school for one or more of their meals each week.  School closures and loss of family income mean food insecurity rates will rise.


Loss of learning – The poorest children tend to have the fewest learning materials at home. And millions, especially in rural areas, lack high-speed internet and the digital devices necessary for distance learning.


Violence – Social disruption and high stress at home mean tens of thousands of children now face an increased risk of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Emotional well-being – In a recent national poll, half of the children surveyed reported feeling worried, and others expressed feeling scared, anxious, confused, stressed or unhappy. 


Education Is a Proven Ladder Out of Poverty

Save the Children knows that early learning opportunities are so critical for children, regardless of their family’s income. That’s why, with your help, we work in more than 200 rural communities across the country to help hundreds of thousands of children every year. 

We design, staff and deliver high-quality early childhood education programs that prepare children for kindergarten, provide parents with the skills they need to support their children’s development, and foster the parent-school connection. 

Your continued support is needed now more than ever to keep this important work going. Join us in giving children growing up in poverty in America the opportunity for a brighter future. 


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