Young children in California faced a significant increase in poverty between 2021 and 2022, reversing the historic drop in child poverty from 2019-2021.
All young children go through critical developmental stages impacting their lifelong health and well-being. However, young children in poverty face greater barriers to receiving the nutrition, learning materials, safe housing, and other resources integral for successful development. Moreover, Black and Latinx families in California have been more likely to struggle to meet basic needs. This highlights racial inequities in young children’s access to necessities.1Limitations with sample size prevented the analysis in this publication from disaggregating by racial/ethnic identity. Lawmakers should invest in better publicly accessible data so that analyses (such as this one) can reliably disaggregate data by racial/ethnic identity to better understand inequities. Understanding trends in poverty for young children in California is therefore important for assessing the strength of federal and state anti-poverty policies and shaping policies that will help California’s youngest children to thrive.
How has poverty among young children changed over recent years?
Using the supplemental poverty measure, the following chart shows poverty levels from 2019 to 2022 for Californians across key age groups:
- Ages 0-12: Includes children who are eligible for early learning and care programs through the California Department of Social Services.
- Ages 0-5: Includes children who are eligible for early learning and care programs through the California Department of Education, Head Start, and Early Head Start.
- Ages 0-3: The ages before a child is eligible to enroll in transitional kindergarten.
- All Californians: Reflects Californians of any age, for the purposes of comparing poverty among young children.
Poverty trends for all Californians show a decrease in poverty from 2019 to 2021 and an increase from 2021 to 2022 as pandemic-era policies ended. Focusing specifically on young children, the chart shows that poverty among young children increased at a higher rate, as compared with all Californians. Specifically, between 2021 and 2022, poverty rose by 49% for all Californians, but it rose by 143% for children 0-3, 166% for children 0-5, and 121% for children 0-12. This uptick in poverty marks a reversal of the historic drop in child poverty from 2019-2021, reflecting how federal policy decisions to end key pandemic-era supports, such as the enhanced child tax credit, have negatively impacted California’s youngest children.
What can policymakers do to lift young children out of poverty?
The dramatic and troubling trends in poverty for young children hold key implications for California and federal policymakers. While recent California policy reforms targeting young children with low incomes, such as family fee reform, will support their well-being and health, more is needed.
Young children in California deserve to live in a state that affords them the opportunity to grow and thrive without experiencing poverty. Federal and state policymakers have several tools to draw on to ensure that poverty for young children, particularly young children of color, decreases.