RISK: Children Living in Poverty

Of all the risk factors associated with whether or not young children succeed in school, living in poverty is the factor most consistently associated with compromised child development. At the family level, living in poverty limits access to goods and services as well as accumulated wealth (e.g., the value of a home, vehicles, savings, household possessions). Pathways through which income can affect children’s development include:

  1. quality of the home environment (e.g., reading to children, learning-oriented toys),
  2. quality of child care environment,
  3. parental physical and mental health (e.g., depression leading to impaired parent-child interactions), and
  4. constrained choice of neighborhoods and schools.


Many economically disadvantaged families are forced to live in areas of highly concentrated poverty, which can exacerbate children’s risk. Neighborhood poverty can directly influence child health and development through air and water quality; exposures to lead paint, mold, and dust; access to nutritious foods and safe places to exercise; and access to quality medical care and schools.Moreover, recent research suggests that the stresses associated with poverty can shape children’s biological stress and emotional health.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are especially likely to enter school with health and nutrition problems and without having had access to quality health care and child care – all factors that can undermine readiness to learn. A childhood in poverty places children at greater risk of repeating a grade, scoring lower than others on standardized tests that measure verbal ability, being diagnosed with learning disabilities, and having lower skills in the areas of reading, working with numbers, problem solving, and memorizing. Early childhood is the stage at which income appears to have the greatest influence on school outcomes and is the most cost-effective place to intervene.

Number and Percentage of Children Ages 0-4 Living in Poverty, Virginia, 2005-2014


SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates (Table B17001), http://factfinder.census.gov/