Including children in immigrant families in policy approaches to reduce child poverty

Our article in Academic Pediatrics supplement: "Child Poverty and Health 2021: Addressing Equity and Economic Justice"
Emily Ruskin,
Carlos A. Guevara,
Published: 11.02.2021 Updated: 12.09.2022


Although they are an increasing share of the US child population (26% in 2020) and have much higher poverty rates than children in nonimmigrant families (20.9% vs 9.9%), children in immigrant families have much more restricted access to the social safety net, which can lead to increased economic hardship and health and developmental risks. More than 90% of children in immigrant families are US citizens, but they are excluded from the safety net due to restrictions that affect their parents and other family members. Exclusions that affect children in immigrant families include restricted categorical eligibility based on immigrant status, stricter income eligibility, reduced benefit levels, high administrative burden, and interactions with immigration policy such as public charge. These exclusions limit the ability of both existing and enhanced social programs to reduce child poverty among this population. Results derived from the Transfer Income Model simulations for the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine's 2019 report A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty show that the poverty-reducing effects of potential enhancements to three main antipoverty programs result in unequal poverty reduction effects by family citizenship/immigration status with disproportionate negative effects on Hispanic children, 54% of whom live in immigrant families. Policy principles to improve equitable access and poverty-reduction effects of social programs for children in immigrant families include basing eligibility and benefit levels on the developmental, health and nutrition needs of the child instead of the immigration status of other family members, reducing administrative burden, and eliminating the link between immigration policy and access to the safety net.

Headshot of Dolores Acevedo-Garcia
Dolores Acevedo-Garcia
Director, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy
Headshot of Pamela Joshi
Pamela Joshi
Policy Research Director
Headshot of Abigail Walters
Abigail N. Walters
Research Associate
Nomi Sofer
Nomi Sofer
Strategic Communications Advisor