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Poverty and Child Health

Federal advocacy priorities

​The American Academy of Pediatrics has long been advocating for federal policies and programs that help lift children and families out of poverty.  Studies show that quality preschool, early education and support for parents in the early years provides a nurturing positive environment, cognitive stimulation, and nutritious meals. 

The Academy advocates to protect and expand federal anti-poverty and safety net programs, including those that provide health care (and access to health care through Medicaid and CHIP), early education (such as Head Start and Early Head Start), quality child care, affordable housing and home visiting, as well as critical nutrition assistance programs like WIC, SNAP, school meals, and summer feeding programs. Without these critical supports for families, it’s estimated that nearly 1 in 3 children would live in poverty instead of 1 in 5.  

Consult the resources below to learn more about the Academy's federal advocacy priorities related to poverty and child health.

Tax policy and economic supports for families

To be healthy, children need financially secure parents. The AAP supports the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), which have reduced family poverty by more than 40 percent and lifted 5 million children out of poverty. Higher, refundable tax credits have been linked withmore prenatal care, less maternal stress, and signs of better infant health. The AAP also supports higher minimum wages and education and job-training programs. 

In 2015, Congress passed legislation permanently extended expiring provisions of the EITC and CTC of $1,000 per child. 

  • AAP letter to congressional leaders supporting the permanent extensions
  • Testimony​ by Lanre Falusi, MD, FAAP, to the House of Representatives Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, "The Failure of Trickle-Down Economics in the War on Poverty"​

Access to nutrition programs and services

Ensuring that children and families have access to healthy, affordable food and nutrition services is a critical component of protecting them against the health effects of poverty. For more information on the following topics please visit the corresponding web pages:

Support for low-income families

When a family lacks access to steady income, stable housing, adequate nutrition, and social and emotional support, it threatens the future of children and undermines the security of the nation as a whole.

  • Child Care
    • ​The constellation of efforts to lift families out of poverty must include policies to ensure higher minimum wages and access to jobs that offer family-friendly benefits, including the opportunity to take paid leave during pregnancy or to care for family members. Although critically important to early brain development, excellent child care is inaccessible for too many families. Child care accounts for approximately 25 percent of the budget for a family with two children and can cost as much as housing in some parts of the United States. Infant care can cost as much as college. High-quality child care can help to alleviate poverty by reducing barriers to work.
  • Housing
    • Housing stability is a key anti-poverty effort and one that is deeply entwined with child health and educational outcomes. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of homeless individuals were children under age 18 (127,787); another nine percent (52,983) were aged 18 to 24.14 These children are more likely to suffer from higher rates of chronic disease, hunger, malnutrition, abuse, and decreased academic achievement compared to children with stable homes.
    • Families with high housing cost burdens may be forced to divert resources from other basic needs (e.g., food, medicine) to pay rent and are at greater risk of being evicted or becoming homeless.
    • Efforts to help families with housing costs such as rental assistance and housing vouchers are essential and children fare better if that assistance enables mobility to move to low-poverty areas. Children who move to low-poverty neighborhoods are more likely to attend college and have higher earnings, and less likely to become single parents, compared to their peers who do not move 
  • Early Childhood Education
    • Communities play a key role in improving children's readiness to learn through the provision of high-quality early education programs. Children start learning the day they are born and must have access to necessary supports to ensure proper brain development in all domains—social-emotional, physical, linguistic, and cognitive—that lead to academic achievement and a secure adulthood. Success in school is strongly linked to positive life outcomes. Yet, too many children do not have access to Early Head Start, Head Start, high-quality child care, and pre-kindergarten that could put their early development on the right track. Additionally, too many children face preschool expulsions and suspensions that lead to negative educational and life experiences.
    • Children who participate in high-quality early childhood programs show remarkable improvement in school performance, social skills, and other factors critical to future success.  All children should have access to high-quality early child care and education programs, so they can reach their maximum potential 

Additional resources

  • AAP Blueprint for Children: How the Next President Can Build a Foundation for a Healthy Future
  • AAP statement on House Republican Task Force Poverty Plan
  • AAP website on poverty and child health, which includes the recently released policy statement and technical report on the topic 
  • Testimony by Lanre Falusi, MD, FAAP, to the House of Representatives Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, "The Failure of Trickle-Down Economics in the War on Poverty"

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