In This Article Child Poverty

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Measuring Child Poverty
  • Levels and Trends
  • Causes and Consequences
  • Antipoverty Policies
  • Nonpartisan Research Organizations
  • Advocacy Research Organizations

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Social Work Child Poverty
Robert Plotnick
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0102


The child poverty literature overlaps to a significant degree the literature on poverty among working-age families. Both sit within the broader literature on poverty in general, which bears a close relationship to the literatures on social welfare policy and the welfare state. The literature on child poverty encompasses five major topics: the measurement of poverty, levels and trends in child poverty and characteristics of poor children, causes of child poverty, the short- and long-term consequences for children of living in poor families, and public policies that affect child poverty. It draws on multiple disciplinary perspectives, including demography, developmental psychology, economics, geography, history, political science, public policy, sociology, social welfare, and urban affairs. The nature of child poverty in affluent countries differs greatly from the situation in low-income, developing countries. This entry will focus on the literature about child poverty in the United States and other affluent countries. Raising income may be an effective way to reduce families’ needs for social services and thereby ease the burden on caseworkers and reduce budgetary pressures on social service agencies.

General Overviews

Several excellent references provide introductions to poverty in general and include substantial material on child poverty. The chapters in Jefferson 2012 and Cancian and Danziger 2009 cover the major poverty issues in the United States. Neither is a textbook, but both can serve well as the core text for graduate and advanced undergraduate courses on US poverty. Rank 2004 emphasizes the importance of structural causes of poverty; builds the social, political, and ethical case for aggressive antipoverty initiatives; and argues for a comprehensive set of policy reforms. Among books specific to child poverty, Lindsey 2009 provides a broad discussion of American child poverty and antipoverty policies that could be the core text in an undergraduate course. Arrighi and Maume 2007 is notable for its wide range of topics, many of which are not covered in the other books. Its individual chapters are narrower in scope than those in Cancian and Danziger 2009 and give relatively little attention to policy recommendations. Katz 1986 is a classic historical study of American poverty and welfare from the late 18th century to 1985.

  • Arrighi, B., and D. Maume, eds. 2007. Child poverty in America today. Praeger Perspectives. Westport, CT: Praeger.

    E-mail Citation »

    The chapters in this four-volume work address a wide range of topics in child poverty in the United States and include original empirical analyses. Chapters are organized under four major sections: families and children, health and medical care, education, and children and the state. Chapters are suitable for undergraduates.

  • Cancian, M., and S. Danziger, eds. 2009. Changing poverty, changing policies. Revised versions of papers originally presented at a conference held in Madison, Wisconsin, in May 2008. New York: Russell Sage.

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    The chapters examine major poverty issues, including trends and levels of poverty; economic and demographic factors affecting poverty; economic mobility; antipoverty policies in the realms of income support, family, education, health, and workforce development; the politics of poverty; and new measures of poverty.

  • Jefferson, P., ed. 2012. The Oxford handbook of the economics of poverty. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195393781.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    This comprehensive volume discusses poverty measurement, trends in poverty, poverty dynamics, economics theories of poverty, antipoverty policies, and selected other dimensions of poverty. Many chapters suggest policy reforms. The emphasis is on US poverty but some international aspects receive attention.

  • Katz, M. 1986. In the shadow of the poorhouse: A social history of welfare in America. New York: Basic Books.

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    Katz sets welfare and related antipoverty policies in the context of American social history from the late 18th century to 1985. He examines how social policy changed in response to the large shifts in America’s social and economic structure over this period.

  • Lindsey, D. 2009. Child poverty and inequality: Securing a better future for America’s children. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Lindsey succinctly describes child poverty in the mid-2000s and explains why US social welfare policies have had little success in reducing it. He discusses the adverse consequences of rising economic inequality for equal opportunity and poverty. The book proposes major policy changes aimed at significantly reducing child poverty.

  • Rank, M. 2004. One nation, underprivileged: Why American poverty affects us all. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195101683.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    The book provides some novel analyses of American poverty and argues for a new paradigm for antipoverty policy. It suggests progressive policy reforms aimed at the labor market, health care, education, child care, income support, housing, and other aspects of poor families’ lives.

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