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How COVID Has Impacted Poverty in America

Priyanka Boghani, FRONTLINE |

FRONTLINE has been tracking poverty, especially how poverty impacts children, for several years — most recently in the documentary Growing Up Poor in America, released in September 2020. 

In the years leading up to 2020, however, the poverty rate in America had gradually been on the decline. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent report, the official poverty rate had decreased for the fifth consecutive year in 2019, to 10.5 percent, the lowest since estimates were first published in 1959.

The same report, released in September 2020, found the child poverty rate at its lowest since 1973.

But both of those reports cover periods that ended prior to COVID-19’s arrival in America. The pandemic changed everything — and without further government support, experts say more suffering may be on the horizon.

While poverty in America had been on the decline before COVID, children were experiencing a higher poverty rate than any other age group.

“There are lower employment rates among parents with children, especially young children, in part because childcare is expensive and it’s not always easy to get back to work,” Parolin said.

Before the crisis, the monthly child poverty rate was 18.7 percent, according to the researchers’ estimates. They found that the elevated trend of children living in poverty continued during the pandemic, with the child poverty rate reaching an estimated high of 21.4 percent in August. (In the same month, the poverty rate among adults aged 18 to 64 and 65-plus was 16.1 percent.) In October, the latest month for which figures are available, the child poverty rate was 19.9 percent.

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