Poverty Impacts ALL Areas of a Child’s Life

Nearly half (45%) of working Floridians are living in or near poverty, or in households that are one missed paycheck or lost job away from affording basic needs. Nearly two in 10 (17%) of Florida children live below the federal poverty line, which means earning less than $26,500 per year for a family of four, ranking Florida as 35th among the other states. The majority of these children (71%) are Black or Latinx. Children living in poverty are more vulnerable to low academic achievement, dropping out of school, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socioemotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays.

One-Fifth of Florida’s Children Don’t Know Where They’ll Get Their Next Meal

One out of six Florida children and one out of four households with children are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where they will get their next meal. More than one million elementary and middle school children in the state are eligible to receive free or reduced school lunches and struggle with hunger when school is out for the summer. This is especially true for Black and Latinx children in Florida. Black children under the age of 18 make up 48% of the families that receive SNAP although they are only 21.7% of the state’s population, Latinx children compose 36% percent (31.1%), and White children make up only 19% (43.6%).

Hunger and undernutrition have significant impacts during infancy and early childhood development. If a mother doesn’t have access to nutrients and food during her pregnancy, the risk of negative birth outcomes such as premature birth, smaller head size, low birth weight, and lower brain weight increases. These pregnancy complications have been recorded most often in Black single mothers, who have some of the highest rates of infant mortality in Florida and of whom 29.4% are below the poverty line. This is unsurprising considering Black mothers in Florida make $0.53 for every $1 a White father makes, for a difference of $28,715 in annual earnings. Additionally, children who experience chronic hunger often have poorer overall physical health, are at risk of stunted growth and being underweight, and often have compromised immune systems.

The effects of food insecurity go beyond health and nutrition. Hungry children are significantly more likely to receive special education services, repeat a grade in school and receive mental health counseling than not-hungry children. Not having enough to eat is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) which can increase the risk of drug abuse, the likelihood of unemployment, worsen school performance, and increase risk of mental and physical illness, many of which directly contribute to preventable causes of death such as heart disease.

Earning More Can Negatively Impact Families in and Around Poverty

Programs and support such as child care, food, housing and utility assistance for those in poverty are awarded based on strict income limits. A small increase in pay can effectively eliminate the ability to qualify for these supports. Programs are not available to help people step out of poverty. The lack of “step up” support leaves families in a terrible lose-lose position where earning more income makes them worse off by removing benefits worth more than their income increase.

Low-Income Families Receive Less Support Than in the Past

Florida’s KidsCount ranking for economic well-being in 2019 was 42nd out of 50 states. Economic well-being rankings are determined by a combination of the number of children in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in households with a high housing-cost burden, and teens not in school and not working.

In 2020, Florida spent less than the national average on basic assistance and work activities from its federal and state funds under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In 2017-2018, only 12% of Florida families in poverty received TANF, compared to the national average of 22%. This is a 43% decline in Florida over 23 years and an 8% decline over 12 years. Florida’s monthly benefit level for TANF is $103 under the median state benefit.

Paid Parental Leave Could Save Infants’ Lives

The first stages of parenthood can be the most challenging for new parents, emotionally and financially. A statewide paid leave program would pay for itself by decreasing the number of families who must turn to other programs for help.Florida is currently without a system to help new parents and their children stay financially secure. Research shows that as few as 12 weeks of paid parental leave reduces the risk of food insecurity and poverty of new families by as much as 10%, and improves childrens’ school performance, long-term success, and physical and mental health.

Long-term benefits aren’t the only things to consider. Paid parental leave is quite literally a matter of life and death. Ten weeks of paid leave can decrease infant mortality rates by about 145 children annually in Florida and 10% nationally. As little as six weeks of paid leave measurably decreased California’s infant mortality rate, directly saving 339 children over four years.

Children are Removed from their Homes for Poverty-Related Reasons

The child welfare system is designed to help and protect children. Unfortunately, Florida’s aggressive stance on removing children from homes due to poverty-related conditions only harms children and families. Half of all Florida children entering foster care are removed from the home for conditions entirely caused by poverty, twice as many as only ten years ago. Investing in programs that help families rise out of poverty would save the state money on out-of-home care and keep children and families from being traumatized by removal.

Juvenile Justice Policies Contribute to the Cycle of Poverty

Graduating from high school and achieving a higher education or technical degree are crucial steps to breaking the cycle of poverty. Policies in Florida’s juvenile justice system keep children and their families from breaking the cycle. This is especially true for Florida’s children of color due to disproportionate contact with the juvenile justice system and receiving harsher sentences. Despite making up the smallest racial group of juveniles in Florida at 20%, Black juveniles made up the largest portion of arrests in 2018 at a staggering 50.9%. In contrast, while White juveniles make up 43.8% of the population and Hispanic 31.8%, they each comprise 33.8% and 15% of the juvenile’s arrested respectively. Two-thirds (66%) of juveniles transferred to adult court were Black compared to 20% of White juveniles. Contact with the juvenile justice system often means entire families are rejected from public housing and go into further debt, making it extremely difficult for families in poverty to find stability for their children to succeed.

For more information, visit our Juvenile Justice Reform Issue Page.


  • Reduce poverty and food insecurity by retaining the SNAP disaster levels of eligibility

    critical to Florida food insecure families at or near poverty.

  • Improve and expand maternal and infant health care especially focused on disparities due to historical racial and income inequities.
  • Increase KidCare health insurance eligibility limits to 300 percent of the federal poverty line which is equal to an annual income of $83,250 for a family of four.
  • Create a pathway alternative for girls involved in domestic disputes to avoid a harmful arrest or charge for domestic violence; increase utilization rates for use of civil citations and mandate use by school resource officers; keep youth out of detention for technical violations of parole; and raise the age of arrest from the current age of 7.
  • Remove or reform arbitrary practices and policies keeping youth in the juvenile justice system for non-criminal behavior. For example – fines and fees.
  • Reexamine removal of children from their homes due to poverty related conditions rather than actual neglect and abuse and the related failure to reunite families for the same reasons.
  • Expand access to truama-responsive, research proven services to children who are impacted by Adverse Childhood Expriences (ACEs) in foster care, juvenile justice, and human trafficking.
  • Strengthen families, reduce infant death and the instances of poverty, and improve children’s performance in school by mandating a 12 week paid parental leave for infant/adoptive parents.
  • Add programs that support families, especially as they move out of poverty. Financially punishing parents for working to support their families reinforces the cycle of poverty. In order to reach the goal of moving families away from needing government support, programs need to slowly reduce support as people begin to achieve their goals, not abandon them.


American Children’s Campaign Priority Bill Highlights

  • Will post as priority bills are filed

Additional Resources

  • This ALICE Report — This Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed Report provides the first look at the extent of financial hardship of working families in Florida using ALICE metrics since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

  • The High Cost of Being Poor in Florida—The Florida Association for Community Action, Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, Florida Coalition for the Homeless and the Coalition on Human Needs. An Assessment of Florida’s Anti-Poverty Programs.
  • Florida TANF Spending—Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Provides an overview of TANF spending in Florida by category and select activities.

Disclaimer: These links to third-party websites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They do not constitute an endorsement or approval by American Children’s Campaign or its affiliate organizations and partners.