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December/January 2018Vol. 18, No. 9Estimates of Poverty Among Children By Using the Supplemental Poverty Measure

Research shows that children and families involved with child welfare are disproportionately poorer, and children in foster care are largely drawn from families living at or below the poverty level. Using the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), the article "Poverty Among Foster Children: Estimates Using the Supplemental Poverty Measure" provides estimates of poverty among children in foster care compared with children living with grandparents or other relatives and children living with their parents. (Grandparents or other relatives can serve as kinship foster parents, but this study relied on caregivers' self-designation of the relationship [e.g., grandchild, foster child] to categorize the families.)

The sample of children was gleaned from the Current Population Survey's Annual Social and Economic Supplement, which is an annual household survey that includes information on sources of income as well as other characteristics. The children were all under the age of 18 at the time of the survey, with an average age of 8.5 years among children in foster care and those living with their parents. Children living with their grandparents or other relatives were slightly older (9.1 and 10.5 years, respectively). Children who lived with their parents were predominantly White, whereas children living in foster care were predominately African-American. Poverty was determined using the SPM poverty thresholds, which take into account  the core necessary expenses faced by families in the United States, such as food, clothing, shelter, and utilities, as well as other necessary expenditures.

The report's findings include the following:

  • The proportion of children living in poverty varied by setting, with poverty rates of 20.1 percent for children in foster care, 32.3 percent for children living with their grandparents, 29.5 percent for children living with other relatives, and 17.5 percent for children living with their parents.
  • Compared with children living with their parents, children in foster care or children living with their grandparents and other relatives have much higher odds of living in deep poverty (income below 50 percent of the SPM poverty line).
  • For children who live with their grandparents, transfer benefits (e.g., food stamps, welfare) mitigate their odds of living in poverty since grandparents often do not receive foster care payments.

"Poverty Among Foster Children: Estimates Using the Supplemental Poverty Measure," by Jessica Pac, Jane Waldfogel, and Christopher Wimer (Social Service Review, 91), is available at (425 KB).