Impact of Child Poverty

Growing up poor negatively impacts the entire trajectory of a child’s life.

  • Child poverty creates gaps in cognitive skills that can be seen as early as 9 months old, and those gaps continue to widen with age. One study found that by age 4, high-income children had heard 30 million more words than poor children.
  • Extreme poverty can produce toxic stress that literally rewires a child’s brain and negatively impacts brain functioning for life.
  • Child poverty jeopardizes children’s health and their ability to learn in school. Poor children are less likely to enter school ready to learn and to graduate from high school than their non-poor peers.
  • All of these disadvantages of child poverty compound and produce lifetime negative consequences: children who grow up poor are less likely to find a well-paying job, more likely to have poor health and more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system.
  • Ultimately, child poverty fuels the intergenerational cycle of poverty as poor children are more likely to be become poor adults and parents.
  • Child poverty costs the nation an estimated $500 billion a year in lost productivity and earnings and increased health and crime costs or 3.8 percent of GDP.

To learn more about on the research on the devastating impact of child poverty, please read Chapter 1 of CDF’s report, Ending Child Poverty Now.