More Than Half of Florida’s Children Are Living in or Near Poverty

Nearly 55 percent of Florida’s four million children are either living in or near poverty, or in households that are one missed paycheck or lost job away from not being able to meet basic needs. With 20% of Florida children actually living in poverty, Florida ranks in the bottom 15 states (35th in the nation). 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.

According to the Federal Reserve, 41% of adults nationwide would be unable to pay for an unexpected $400 emergency expense. Altogether, one-third of adults are either unable to pay their bills or are one modest financial setback away from financial hardship.

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


One out of five Florida children are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Over two million children in the state are eligible to participate in free or reduced lunch and more than one million struggle with hunger during the summer when school is out. 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 on 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 in Black single mothers who have some of the highest rates of infant mortality in the state of 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 also resonate in the classroom and in later years. 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.

Families in And Around Poverty Struggle to Improve

Programs and support such as child care, food, housing and utility assistance for those in poverty are awarded based on income qualifications. 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.

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 2018, 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. The state spent significantly more than the national average on child care and child welfare services. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, redirecting funds back towards cash assistance (basic assistance) can improve academic, health, and economic outcomes for children and families in poverty.

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.

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.

The fines and fees associated with arrest and probation create additional barriers for juveniles and their families already experiencing poverty, making it difficult to leave the juvenile justice system and end the cycle of poverty. For more information, visit our Juvenile Justice Reform Issue Page.

Support

  • Increase SNAP benefits and pass a Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill: Ensure low income children have access to healthy and nutritious foods and fix Florida’s administrative problems that delay access to expanded SNAP benefits to ensure that they can successfully perform in and out of the classroom.
  • Add programs that support families as they move out of poverty: Financially punishing parents for working to support their families continues the cycle of poverty. In order to reach the goal of moving families away from needing government support, programs need to help move them toward their goals, not abandon them.
  • Change juvenile justice policies to continue to support public safety without threatening to derail the life of a child for a youthful mistake: Barriers to rehabilitation exist when children in the juvenile justice system are not staying on-level with their peers in education. Other issues include fines & fees, civil citation utilization, and disproportionate minority contact.
  • Keep families in their homes: Remove administrative barriers that prevent federal dollars for rental assistance from reaching families that need it.

Legislation

American Children’s Campaign Priority Bill Highlights

  • To be posted as priority bills are filed

What American Children’s Campaign Is Saying…

  • TBD

Additional Resources

  • 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.