Research Publication

Latino Child Poverty Rose During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Especially Among Children in Immigrant Families

This data snapshot is part of a series documenting how Latino children, families, and households are faring during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recovery. Drawing from the latest publicly available data sources, each installation in the series examines a separate domain of child and family well-being and provides a brief overview of social and policy context relevant to the findings. Recent releases focus on housing insecurity, food insufficiency, and multiple hardships experienced by Latino households with children during the pandemic.

Previous analysis showed that poverty rates among Latino children increased by 4.1 percentage points from 2019 to 2020 (from 23.2% to 27.3%). This increase accounted for more than half of the total increase in the number of children living in poverty over the past year. However, not all groups of Latino children have felt the same economic impact from the pandemic.

In a new analysis of recently released data from the Current Population Survey, we found that the economic impact of the pandemic fell especially heavily on Latino children in immigrant families. From 2019 to 2020, poverty rates increased by 6.1 percentage points among Latino children living in families headed by non-U.S. citizens, from 36.3 percent to 42.4 percent; this group includes both authorized and unauthorized immigrants. Also during this time, poverty increased by 4.9 percentage points (from 20.9% to 25.8%) among Latino children in families headed by naturalized U.S. citizens. In contrast, poverty rates increased by 3.0 percentage points among Latino children in families headed by U.S.-born citizens, from 18.1 percent to 21.1 percent. Of the nearly 5 million Latino children in poverty in 2020, roughly 2.0 million were living in families headed by non-U.S. citizens, with 0.7 million in families headed by naturalized U.S. citizens and 2.3 million in families headed by U.S.-born citizens. (See methodology section for definitions of each group.)

Economic factors can help explain why Latino children in immigrant families were most affected by the pandemic.

The increase in poverty rates among Latino children in immigrant families during the pandemic reflects, in part, a confluence of factors in the labor market. Unemployment rates, for example, more sharply increased during the pandemic for foreign-born than for native-born Latino workers. This is due, in part, to immigrant workers’ overrepresentation in occupations and industries such as food and lodging services, maintenance, and construction that were hard hit by the pandemic. In addition, Latino workers who are immigrants earn less than their U.S.-born counterparts, leaving them more susceptible to economic downturns. Government programs also interact with the labor market in ways that shape Latino child poverty. For example, unemployment insurance requires sufficient formal earnings as an eligibility criterion, which may be difficult to meet for many Latino workers in low-wage or seasonal jobs.

Government programs can mitigate the adversity experienced by Latino families during COVID.

U.S. anti-poverty programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Medicaid have been shown to ameliorate the negative effects of child poverty. Nonetheless, many programs impose immigration restrictions by requiring Social Security numbers for all family members or by banning public assistance to most non-citizens. Recognizing the pandemic’s impact on immigrant families—many of which include both U.S. citizens and non-citizens—recent Economic Impact (stimulus) Payments and the temporary Child Tax Credit expansion have allowed immigrant parents to access benefits for their U.S. citizen children by making individuals and children, rather than the family, the basis of eligibility. Additionally, the 2019 public charge rule, which had the potential to deny permanent immigration status to immigrants who used benefits like food stamps and Medicaid, has been rescinded. The success of these policies in reducing the adversity faced by Latino children and families in poverty—and especially those from immigrant families—may depend on increasing awareness, streamlining procedures, implementing policies that are inclusive of immigrants, and combatting distrust of government in their communities.


We estimated poverty rates using nationally representative data from the basic monthly Current Population Survey (CPS). Fielded monthly, the CPS collects data on the total income of a householder’s family in the past 12 months from one quarter of its overall sample. The poverty rates reported here differ from the official poverty rates based on the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC), which each year collects detailed data on incomes from the past calendar year and demographic information for members of a household. Although the ASEC-based official poverty rates are more reliable and robust than the estimates reported here, there is a significant time lag between availability of the data and the condition of the current economy. (The ASEC-based official poverty rates for 2020 will be available in Fall 2021.) To obtain estimates from the basic monthly CPS, we first combined three months of data from the first quarter in each year. This allowed us to increase the sample size, approximate ASEC data collected each March on incomes from the past calendar year, and circumvent problems in data quality due to the impact of the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic on data collection (i.e., the response rate dropped at the start of the pandemic and rebounded in Fall 2020). We then compared the income bracket reported and the family size against the official poverty thresholds to determine poverty status. Respondents choose from 16 income brackets (less than $5,000, and then an interval of $2,500 for income from $5,000 – $15,000; an interval of $5,000 for income from $15,000 – $39,999; $40,000 – $49,999; $50,000 – $59,999; $60,000 – $74,999; $75,000 – $99,999; $100,000 – $149,999; and $150,000 or more) for the income question, which offers examples of incomes including money from jobs, businesses, farms, rent, pensions, dividends, and interest; Social Security payments; and other incomes that family members received. For cases in which we could not determine poverty status because the poverty threshold is between the lower and upper bound of the income bracket (6.9% of the Latino child sample), we imputed poverty status using both data on the household characteristics and data from other households in the same quarter and in which poverty status had been identified. The characteristics used in the imputation include householder age, race, female-headed status, residence with children under age 6, the householder’s and spouse’s citizenship and nativity status, education level, employment status, whether the householder’s or spouse’s main job was in a low-wage industry, region and metropolitan status, and the month of the interview (first or fifth). To summarize our results, we grouped Latino children under age 18 by U.S. citizenship and nativity status of the head of the family and/or their spouse, who for most children are their parents; for some children, the head of household is another relative, such as a grandparent. We chose not to limit our sample only to children whose families were headed by their parents to include as many children and experiences as possible. Latino children are those who are reported to have Latino, Hispanic, or Spanish origins regardless of race. Children in families headed by a U.S.-born citizen are those for which the head of the family or spouse is a U.S.-born citizen (59% of all Hispanic children, or roughly 10.7 million); children in families headed by a naturalized U.S. citizen are those for which neither the family head nor the spouse is U.S.-born and one or both are a naturalized U.S. citizen (15%, or 2.7 million); the last group are children in families in which neither the family head nor spouse is a U.S. citizen (26%, or 4.7 million). Non-U.S. citizens include authorized immigrants such as legal permanent residents, refugees, asylees, and temporary visa holders, as well as unauthorized immigrants. The sample size for children in families headed by naturalized U.S. citizens is relatively small (averaging around 600 per year-quarter); as such, the estimates for this group may be less reliable. Additionally, naturalizations each year could also affect the composition of this group. We applied person weights in the basic monthly CPS throughout—to both the imputation and to the final statistics shown in the figure.

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