Young student looking down and holding a pen

Research Center

ALICE In Focus Series

Children in Financial Hardship

The number of children growing up in financial hardship in the U.S. is drastically higher than is widely reported. According to the outdated Federal Poverty Level, 16% of children in the U.S. lived in poverty in 2019. Yet United For ALICE data shows that another 33% — twice as many — were also growing up in hardship, in households that earned above the poverty level but less than what is costs to afford the basics. These households are ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

The reality is that between families in poverty and those who are ALICE, almost half (49%) of children in the U.S. in 2019 lived in households with income below the ALICE Threshold, struggling to afford essentials in the communities where they lived.

The tabs below offer a more detailed view of children growing up in financial hardship.

Additional Resources on Children and Financial Hardship

As outlined in detail in United For ALICE's 2019 Consequences of Insufficient Household Income report, growing up in a struggling household impacts all aspects of children's lives — from housing stability and food security, to access to quality education and technology. These issues are compounded by persistent discrimination and systemic barriers that limit access to resources and opportunities for financial stability for many children and families.

Key resources related to children and financial hardship are included below, offering important context and even deeper analysis. This list includes the references linked in our ALICE in Focus: Children Research Brief, as well as additional resources on topics from the ALICE Children Data Dashboard.


Children And Financial Hardship (General)

Boghani, P. (2017, November 22). How poverty can follow children into adulthood. Frontline. Retrieved from

Cabrera, N., Deming, D., Rugy, V. de, Gennetian, L. A., Haskins, R., Matthew, D. B., et al. (2022, March 9). Rebalancing: Children first. Brookings. Retrieved from

Children's Defense Fund. (2021). The State of America's Children 2021. Retrieved from

Gennetian, L.A., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2020, May 13). Where's the rallying cry? America's children are unequally prepared to absorb the impacts of COVID-19. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved from

Hanks, A., Solomon, D., Weller, C.E. (2018, February 21). Systemic inequality: How America's structural racism helped create the Black-White wealth gap. The Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

Lombardi, J. (2020, July 23). One thing leads to another: Financial hardship, family well-being and the impact on young children. Center for the Study of Social Policy. Retrieved from

Miller, P., Podvysotska, T., Betancur, L. Votruba-Drzal, E. (2021, August 1). Wealth and child development: Differences in associations by family income and developmental stage. The Russel Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 7(3), 154–174. Retrieved from

Nguyen, U.S., Smith, S., Granja, M.R. (2020, October). Young children in deep poverty: Racial/Ethnic disparities and child well-being compared to other income groups. National Center for Children in Poverty. Retrieved

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). A roadmap to reducing child poverty. Retrieved from

United For ALICE. (2019). The consequences of insufficient household income. Retrieved from

Zero to Three. (2022, February 7). Pathways to prosperity: Report from a convening on economic security for families with infants and toddlers. Retrieved from

Zippel, C., & Sherman, A. (2021, February 25). Bolstering family income is essential to helping children emerge successfully from the current crisis. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved from

Disability Status

Cheng, L., & Shaewitz, D. (2021). The 2021 youth transition report: Outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities. Institute for Educational Leadership. Retrieved from

Foster, C., Chorniy, A., Kwon, S., Kan, K., Heard-Garris, N., & Davis, M.M. (2021, September). Children with special health care needs and forgone family employment. Pediatrics, 148 (3). Retrieved from

Goodman, N., Morris, M., & Boston, K. (n.d.). Financial inequality: Disability, race, and poverty in America. National Disability Institute. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). "IDEA Section 618 Data Products: Static Tables Part B Child Count & Educational Environments Table 1," 2019-2020. Retrieved from

Young, N.A.E. & Crankshaw, K. (2021, March 25). U.S. childhood disability rate up in 2019 from 2008: Disability rates highest among American Indian and Alaska Native children and children living in poverty. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from

Living Arrangements

Barroso, A., & Fry, R. (2021, July 7). On some demographic measures, people in same-sex marriages differ from those in opposite-sex marriages. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2022, February 27). Foster care explained: What it is, how it works, and how it can be improved. Retrieved from,unable%20to%20care%20for%20them

Family Equality Council. (n.d.). LGBTQ Family Fact Sheet. Retrieved from

Generations United. (2021). Family matters: Multigenerational living is on the rise and here to stay. Retrieved from

Generations United. (2020). State of Grandfamilies 2020: Facing a pandemic: Grandfamilies living together during COVID-19 and thriving beyond. Retrieved from

Gupta-Kagan, J. (2020, April). America's hidden foster care system. Stanford Law Review, Vol. 72. Retrieved from

Hemez, P. & Washington, C. (2021, April 12). Number of children living with their mothers has doubled in past 50 years. U. S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from

Livingston, G. (2018, April 25). The changing profile of unmarried parents. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2021, July 15). How many children are in foster care in the United States? In my state? How long do children stay in foster care? What happens to them after they emancipate? Children's Bureau. Retrieved from

Williams, S.C., Sepulveda, K. (2019, May 21). The share of children in foster care living with relatives is growing. Retrieved from

Household Work

AAUW. (n.d.). The simple truth about the gender pay gap. Retrieved from

Fogg, N., Harrington, P., & Khatiwada, I. (2021, May). The 2021 summer job outlook for American teens. Drexel University Center for Labor Markets and Policy. Retrieved from

Fry, R. (2022, January 14). Some gender disparities widened in the U.S. workforce during the pandemic. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Lloyd, C. (2021, January 12). One in four black workers report discrimination at work. Gallup. Retrieved from

Place, A. (2021, February 24). Yet another hurdle for women at work: Their age. Retrieved from

Wang, W. & Erickson, J. (2021, August). Homeward bound: The work-family reset in post-COVID America. Institute for Family Studies. Institute for Family Studies. Retrieved from


Cunningham, C., Gillespie, S., & Batko, S. (2019, May). How housing matters for families: Findings from in-depth interviews with parents in supportive housing. Urban Institute. Retrieved from

Gaitán, V. (2019, January 2). How housing affects children's outcomes. Housing Matters, Urban Institute. Retrieved from

Golding, E. Goodman, L., & Strochak, S. (2018, March). Is limited English proficiency a barrier to homeownership? Urban Institute. Retrieved from

Green, K-A., Bovell-Ammon, A., Sandel, M. (2021, August). Housing and neighborhoods as root causes of child poverty. Academic Pediatrics, 21: S194–199. Retrieved from

PD&R's The Edge, (n.d.). Economic mobility: Measuring the American dream. HUD User. Retrieved from

Sandel, M., Sheward, R., Ettinger de Cuba, S., Coleman, S.M., Frank, D.A., Chilton, M., Black, M., Heeren, T., Pasquariello, J., Casey, P., Ochoa, E., Cutts, D. (2018). Unstable housing and caregiver and child health in renter families. Pediatrics, 141(12). Retrieved from

Child Care

Bateman, N., & Ross, M. (2020, October). Why has COVID-19 been especially harmful for working women? The Brookings Institution. Retrieved from

Child Care Aware. (2022). Demanding change: Repairing our child care system. Retrieved from

Heckman, J. A. (2022). There's more to gain by taking a comprehensive approach to early childhood development. Retrieved from

Morrisey, T. (2020, February 18). Addressing the need for affordable, high-quality early childhood care and education for all in the United States. Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Retrieved from


Afterschool Alliance. (2020). America after 3PM: Demand grows, opportunity shrinks. Retrieved from

Afterschool Alliance. (2021, April). The evidence base for afterschool and summer. Retrieved from

America's Promise Alliance. (2020, October 1). High school graduation facts: Ending the dropout crisis. Retrieved from

Chatterjee, R. (2017, March 23). Kids who suffer hunger in first years lag behind their peers in school. NPR, The Salt. Retrieved from

Dorn, E., Hancock, B., Sarakatsannis, J., & Viruleg, E. (2021, July 27). COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from

Fischer, A., Keily, T., & Matt, W. (2020, May 22). Exploring new research on Pre-K outcomes. Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from

Long, H. & Douglas-Gabriel, D. (2020, September 16). The latest crisis: Low-income students are dropping out of college this fall in alarming numbers. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

McCoy, D.C., Yoshikawa, H., Ziol-Guest, K.M., Duncan, G.J., Schindler, H.S., Magnuson, K., Yang, R., Koepp, A., & Shonkoff, J.P. (2017, November). Impacts of early childhood education on medium- and long-term educational outcomes. Educational Research, 46(8): 474–487. Retrieved from

Morrissey, T. (2019, April 1). The effect of early care and education on children's health. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Retrieved from

Naftzger, N. & Newman, J. (2021). Harnessing the power of afterschool and summer programs to support recovery and reengagement. American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

The National Institute for Early Education Research. (2021). The state of preschool 2020: State preschool yearbook. Rutgers Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021, December 9). Interim guidance on supporting the emotional and behavioral health needs of children, adolescents, and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from

Center of the Developing Child. (n.d.). ACES and toxic stress: Frequently asked questions. Harvard University. Retrieved from

Center on the Developing Child. (n.d.). Three core concepts in early development. Harvard University. Retrieved from

Children's HealthWatch. (2015, April). Doctor's orders: Promoting healthy child development by increasing food security in Arkansas. Retrieved from

Das, L.T., Kutscher, E.J., & Gonzales, C.J (2020, July 29). Addressing barriers to care for patients with limited English proficiency during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health Affairs. Retrieved from

Edmunds, M., & Coye, M.J., eds. (1998). America's children: Health insurance and access to care. National Academies Press. Retrieved from

Francis, L., DePriest, K., Wilson, M., & Gross, D. (2018, September 30). Child poverty, toxic stress, and social determinants of health: Screening and care coordination. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 23(3), Manuscript 2.

Institute of Medicine (U.S.) Committee on the Consequences of Uninsurance. (2002). Chapter 3: Effects of health insurance on Health, in Care without coverage: Too little, too late. National Academies Press.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Vibrant and healthy kids: Aligning science, practice, and policy to advance health equity. The National Academies Press.

National Immigration Law Center. (2017, August). Increasing access to health insurance benefits everyone: Economic impacts. Retrieved from

Woolf, S.H., Laudan, A., Dubay, L., Simon, S.M., Zimmerman, E., & Luk, K.X. (2015, April). How are income and wealth linked to health and longevity? The Urban Institute. Retrieved from


Public Assistance

Aussenberg, R. A., & Falk, G. (2022, February 25). The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Categorical Eligibility (2022). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from

Carlson, S. & Neuberger, Z. (2021, January 27). WIC Works: Addressing the nutrition and health needs of low-income families for more than four decades. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved from

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2022, January 6). A quick guide to SNAP eligibility and benefits. Retrieved from

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (n.d.). State temporary assistance for needy families programs do not provide adequate safety net for poor families. Retrieved from

Ettinger de Cuba, S., Chilton, M., Bovell-Ammon, A., Knowles, M., Coleman, S.M., Black, M.M., Cook, J.T., Becker Cutts, D., Casey, P.H., Heeren, T.C., & Frank, D.A. (2019, May). Loss of SNAP is associated with food insecurity and poor health in working families with young children. Health Affairs, 38(5). Retrieved from

Minton, S. & Giannarelli, L. (2019, February). Five things you may not know about the U.S. social safety net. Urban Institute. Retrieved from

Child Tax Credit

Curran, M.A. (2021, December 22). Research roundup of the expanded child tax credit: The first 6 months. Policy & Social Poverty Report, 5(5). Retrieved from

Parolin, Z., Collyer, S., & Curran, M.A. (2022, February 17). Absence of monthly child tax credit leads to 3.7 million more children in poverty in January 2022. Poverty and Social Poverty Brief, 6(2). Retrieved from

Pilkauskas, N. & Cooney, P. (2021, October). Receipt and usage of child tax credit payments among low-income families: What we know. University of Michigan Poverty Solutions. Retrieved from

Shivaram, D. (2022, January 21). Families are in distress after the first month without the expanded child tax credit. Retrieved from

Data Resources

American Community Survey. (2019). 1-year estimates [Public use microdata sample (PUMS)]. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from

The Annie. E. Casey Foundation. (2021, December 13). Census 2020 undercount: The good, the bad and what we learned. Retrieved from

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). Occupational employment statistics: May 2019 state occupational employment and wage estimates. U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved from

U.S. Census Bureau. (2021). Household Pulse Survey [Public use file]. Retrieved from

U.S. Census Bureau. (2021, October 8). Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs). Retrieved from

U.S. Census Bureau. (2021, October 8.). The undercount of young children. Retrieved from