What does "economically secure" children really mean?

Federal statistics monitoring children’s economic security need an overhaul
Maura Baldiga,
Published: 01.16.2020 Updated: 07.07.2022

Federal agencies monitor child and family wellbeing and consider children living with at least one adult working full time, year round as economically secure. However, an economically secure environment for children depends on much more than the number of hours their parents work. Economic security also requires wages that are high enough for children and families to live healthy lives.

A more meaningful definition of economic security for children considers whether full-time working adults earn enough income to meet minimum living standards for children. diversitydatakids.org defines economically secure children as those living with at least one adult working full time, year round only if family incomes are over 200% of the federal poverty level. For example, to be considered economically secure, children living with at least one full-time working adult in a family of four in 2019 need to have a family income over $51,500.

Economic security is more than just employment

As in most OECD industrialized nations, over 90% of children in the U.S. live with at least one adult who is working. Many of these adults are employed full time. We found that in 2017, over 70% of U.S. children (under the age of 9) lived in households with at least one adult who works full time.

There are some differences by race/ethnicity. Over two-thirds of Hispanic children and over half of black children live with at least one adult working full time, compared to over three-quarters of non-Hispanic white and Asian/Pacific Islander children. Less than half of American Indian/Alaskan Native children live with at least one adult working full time.

Without adequate wages, even working full time does not provide enough resources for working families to cover the costs of raising children. It is striking that half of children living with adults working full time are still low income. It is even worse for black, Hispanic and American Indian/Native Alaskan children, who are more likely to live with low-income, full-time workers. Less than 30% of black children, 35% of Hispanic children and one-quarter of American Indian/Native Alaskan children live with adults working full time who have incomes high enough to meet the diversitydatakids.org definition of economically secure children. To address these inequities, many states and localities have passed minimum wage laws that guarantee higher wages above the federal standard.

State estimates

Use the interactive chart below to explore racial/ethnic differences in economic security for children under age 9 at the national level or for a specific state.

Note: The federal government's definition of economically secure children comes from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics' annual report, America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Family Database monitors cross-national trends in work and family outcomes and policies. 

Learn more about family economic security
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Pamela Joshi
Policy Research Director
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Rebecca Huber
Research Associate