What Is Child Poverty?

Living in squalid communities is thought to harm child development.
Child poverty refers to the inequality of children who grow up without certain resources, like quality education.
Lack of access to health care is an issue directly related to child poverty.
Providing disadvantaged children with nutritional food is one way to help them rise out of poverty.
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  • Written By: Angela Farrer
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2014
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Child poverty is a state of economic inequality in which some children grow up with limited or even no access to the resources they need to develop into healthy and productive adults, including adequate food, shelter, medical care, and education. These children may be members of working poor families or they may be orphans sometimes left to their own devices in regions with little government support for them. The cycle of poverty generally follows these children throughout their lives, and they often have statistically high chances of becoming poor adults as well.

The poverty threshold is a benchmark for measuring levels of income disparity, and it can vary from one geographic region to the next. Children living in families whose annual income is below the equivalent of $20,000 US Dollars (USD) are usually defined as living in child poverty in many countries. They often have parents who are able to earn only minimum wage due to limited education, resulting in financial stresses that can sometimes significantly disrupt family life. These children also tend to underperform in school, score lower on standardized tests, and drop out of high school in greater percentages.


Lack of access to health care is an additional concern related to child poverty. Poor children generally have higher chances of contracting one of the common diseases of poverty such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, or malaria. Many of these illnesses can be attributed to improper building ventilation, poor sanitation, and inadequate nutrition. Young people growing up in poverty are often not covered by any health insurance, so they also may not receive regular preventative care such as vaccinations.

Street children present some of the most serious cases of child poverty. Many of them find themselves on their own following parental deaths or abandonment. They typically lack any kind of support system and frequently resort to criminal activity in order to survive. Many children living on the streets in some areas may lack birth certificates, having been born outside of hospitals, rendering them ineligible for any social services that their local region is able to provide. Street children are disproportionally at risk for becoming victims of exploitation or violent crime.

Childhood poverty can lead to noticeable social costs as poor children grow into adulthood. Some prove to be less educated and less productive workers than their counterparts who did not grow up in poverty. Others can turn to lives of crime and thus increase the taxpayer costs of the justice system.


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