The Children of America

views updated

chapter 3

Since the mid-1960s, the proportion of children as part of the total U.S. population has decreased. The percentage of the population under age eighteen peaked in 1960 at 36% and began a decline to 26% by 1990. While the seventy-two million children under age eighteen still represented 26% of the population in 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that by 2020 only 24% of the population would be children under age eighteen (America's Children in Brief: Key Indicators of Well-Being, 2004, Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2004). As the child population decreased through lower birth rates, the number of Americans over the age of sixty-five began to claim an increasing percentage of the overall population.


Census data show that white, non-Hispanic children steadily declined as a percentage of the child population from 74% in 1980 to 63% in 1999. That decline was projected to continue to 53% by 2020. In a reverse trend, Hispanic children, who were 9% of the child population in 1980, were projected to rise to 24% by 2020 (America's Children in Brief: Key Indicators of Well-Being, 2004).

The distribution of children by race and ethnicity varied widely by relationship to the householder in Census 2000. Although 15% percent of all children were identified as African-American, they represented 32% of all grandchildren, 35% of all foster children, and 29% of all children who were other relatives of the householder. This data suggested that African-American children were more likely to live in extended family households. Twenty-eight percent of Hispanic children age fifteen to seventeen were householders or spouses, a statistic that the Census Bureau suggested may have indicated early marriage patterns. (See Table 3.1.)

Children with disabilities posed unique challenges for families. While 5.7% of all children counted in 2000 had disabilities, they represented 22.4% of all foster children. The most significant proportion of children with disabilities (4.5%) had difficulty learning, remembering, or concentrating. Just over 1% of children had multiple disabilities. (See Table 3.1.)


Family structure has been associated with the economic, parental, and community resources available to children, as well as their overall well-being. On average, living with two married parents has been associated with more favorable outcomes for children. Not surprisingly, the increasing number of divorces, marital separations, and out-of-wedlock births significantly reshaped the living arrangements of American children. In 2003 children under eighteen were considerably more likely to live with only one parent than children of just one or two prior generations.

A 2003 report from the U.S. Census Bureau provided a statistical snapshot of American households with children under the age of eighteen. In 2002 69% of children lived with two parents, 23% lived with only their mother, and 5% lived with only their father. Another 4% lived with neither parent. When children lived in households without either parent, 44% lived with a grandparent. (See Table 3.2.)

Many children lived with a parent who was cohabiting with an unmarried partner. While 23% of children lived with a single mother compared to 5% who lived with a single father, children in a single-father household were three times more likely to share the home with the parent's cohabiting partner. (See Figure 3.1.) Almost half of African-American children (48%) lived with a single mother, compared with 25% of Hispanic children and 16% of non-Hispanic white children. Of children who lived with a cohabiting parent, non-Hispanic white children more frequently experienced a cohabiting mother while Hispanic children more often experienced a cohabiting father. (See Figure 3.1.)


Characteristics of children under 18 years by relationship to householder, 2000
CharacteristicTotalSon or daughterGrandchildHouseholder/spouse1Other relatives2Foster childOther nonrelatives2
Total, under 18 years71,843,42564,651,9594,388,90864,3141,464,848291,507981,889
Race and Hispanic or Latino origin
White alone68.870.948.662.239.147.866.5
Black or African American alone14.813.332.314.828.835.313.1
American Indian and Alaska Native alone1.
Asian alone3.
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone0.
Some other race alone7.77.28.914.519.97.411.6
Two or more races4.
Hispanic or Latino (of any race)
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino61.163.639.050.623.840.856.1
Foreign born4.44.12.819.620.72.710.7
Living arrangement4
Living in married couple family group68.074.710.8(X)5.5(X)(X)
Living in mother only family group20.920.039.9(X)21.6(X)(X)
Living in father only family group5.85.413.8(X)6.0(X)(X)
Living with neither parent5.4(X)35.5100.067.0100.0100.0
Child in unmarried partner household55.75.32.7(X)6.19.446.0
Educational attainment of the householder
Less than high school19.917.840.368.840.624.028.5
High school graduate (includes equivalency)27.026.829.221.427.428.632.9
Some college29.229.922.08.722.932.427.0
Bachelor's degree or more23.925.
Employment status of the householder
In labor force83.886.155.662.070.470.981.8
Not in labor force16.213.944.438.029.629.118.2
Poverty status in 19997
In poverty16.015.520.651.124.7(X)(X)
Not in poverty84.084.579.448.975.3(X)(X)
Tenure of householder
Owns home66.867.170.226.451.871.752.5
Rents home33.332.929.873.648.228.347.5
Total, 3 to 17 years60,518,19454,932,1953,201,26064,3141,217,977243,341859,107
Percent 100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0
School enrollment
Enrolled in school890.891.486.453.483.490.882.6
Nursery school, preschool, or kindergarten15.015.019.3(X)11.215.411.5
Public school968.066.877.4(X)83.784.980.2
Elementary (grades 1–8)55.155.652.81.847.055.947.3
Public school989.188.792.994.895.096.395.4
High school (grades 9–12)20.620.814.247.724.919.423.4
Public school990.990.693.792.295.195.994.8
Not enrolled in school9.28.613.646.616.69.217.4

Some children lived in households maintained by people other than their parents. Foster children fit this grouping because they were not related to the householder. Figure 3.2 shows that some areas of the country, particularly the South, had higher incidents of children who were not a son or daughter of the householder in 2000. Marital difficulties, economic issues, or parents absent due to illness, military service, or prison sentences may have placed children in the homes of relatives. Some cultural traditions favored living in an extended family arrangement. Coastal areas, such as California, Florida, and Hawaii, with large numbers of immigrants have been characterized by above-average proportions of children who were not sons or daughters of the householder. Often relatives or friends already living in the United States provided housing to immigrant families until they could establish themselves.

Not all children were part of a household in Census 2000. The Census Bureau reported that, of the 71,843,425 under age eighteen, more than three hundred thousand lived in group quarters. This included correctional institutions, hospitals, residential treatment facilities, group homes, and schools for the disabled. Also counted in this category were children who, along with one or both parents, were part of the growing homeless population.

Children of Foreign-Born Householders

Census Bureau data revealed that in 2002 there were fourteen million children, or 20% of all children, living in a household


X Not applicable.
1Refers to householders and spouses who are aged 15 to 17 years.
2Other relatives include brother/sister, nephew/niece, cousin, brother/sister-in-law, son/daughter-in-law, and the category "other relative." An example in the latter category would be great-grandchild.
3Other nonrelatives include roomer/boarder, housemate/roommate, unmarried partners, and the category "other nonrelative." An example in the latter category would be a child of an unmarried partner or roommate, but not a related child of the householder.
4Determined by relationship to householder or to reference person in a related subfamily. Universe excludes children aged 15 to 17 who are householders, reference persons of subfamilies, and their spouses.
5Excludes children aged 15 to 17 who are the householder or unmarried partner in an unmarried-partner household.
6Percent based on householders who were in the labor force.
7Poverty universe excludes children unrelated to the householder (foster children and other nonrelatives).
8Enrolled in school includes children enrolled in college, not shown separately.
9Percent based on those enrolled in grade category.
10Includes children aged 5 to 17 with any combination of two or more disabilities.
source: Terry Lugaila and Julia Overturf, "Table 3. Characteristics of Children under 18 Years by Relationship to Householder, 2000," in Children and the Households They Live In, 2000, Current Population Reports, CENSR-14, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, February 2004, (accessed July 19, 2004)
Total, 5 to 17 years52,826,32048,097,6842,602,67164,3141,078,672213,519769,460
Residence in 1995
Same house in 199552.953.855.823.634.225.620.9
Different house in 199547.
Language spoken at home
English only81.681.984.267.860.588.979.2
Language other than English18.418.115.832.239.511.120.8
Disability status
Severe hearing or vision impairment1.
Condition limiting basic activities1.
Difficulty learning, remembering or concentrating4.
Difficulty dressing, bathing or getting around inside the house0.
With any disability5.
With multiple disabilities101.

with at least one foreign-born parent present. While children with foreign-born parents might need additional resources at school and at home in order to progress successfully in school, they were more likely to have the advantage of living in a two-parent family. Eighty-one percent of children living with foreign-born parents were living with two parents, compared to 69% of children living with native parents.


Many divorced parents eventually remarried, and their children became part of stepfamilies, or blended families. The most common stepfamily consisted of children living with a biological mother and a stepfather, with no other children present. The frequency of this arrangement was attributable to the large number of divorced women who gained custody of their children. Another type of stepfamily consisted of at least one stepchild and one biological child of the couple. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 15% of all children lived in stepfamilies and were included in the Census 2000 count of children in two-parent families.

Children and Grandparents

Grandparents have long played a significant role in the lives of many children. Grandparents provide an important resource to struggling parents by assisting with child care and often contributing to the family income. In 2002 5.6 million children were living in households with a grandparent present. The majority of these children (3.7 million) resided in the grandparent's home. In 65% of these cases, at least one parent was also present in the household. One-third of children with a coresident grandparent lived with one or both parents as the householder. (See Table 3.3.)

In Coresident Grandparents and Their Grandchildren: Grandparent-Maintained Families, Lynne M. Casper and Kenneth R. Bryson of the Census Bureau reported on the rising trend of grandparents raising grandchildren. They noted that in 1970 3.2% of children under age eighteen lived in family households maintained by a grandparent. By 2002, 5.1% of children lived in grandparent-headed households. Grandparents had responsibility for more than one million children without a parent present in the home. Other Census data showed that children living in grandparent-maintained homes without a parent present were more likely to live in poverty and receive public assistance. Thirty-six percent of these children lacked health insurance. (See Figure 3.3.) According to Casper and Bryson, some researchers


Children by age and family structure, March 20021
(In thousands)
Total under 18 years
CharacteristicNumber90-percent confidence intervalUnder 1 year1–2 years3–5 years6–8 years9–11 years12–14 years15–17 yearsTotal under 6 yearsTotal under 6–11 years
— Represents zero or rounds to zero.
X Not applicable.
1All people under age 18, excluding those living in group quarters, householders, subfamily reference people, and their spouses.
2If the parent is either the householder with an unmarried partner in the household or the unmarried partner of the householder, they are cohabiting based on this direct measure. Cohabiting couples where neither partner is the householder are not identified.
3POSSLQ (Persons of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters) is defined by the presence of only two people over age 15 in the household who are opposite sex, not related, and not married. There can be any number of people under age 15 in the household. The universe of children under age 15 is shown as the denominator for POSSLQ measurement.
Note: Data based on the Annual Demographic Supplement to the March 2002 Current Population Survey.
source: Jason Fields, "Table 1. Children by Age and Family Structure, March 2002," in Children's Living Arrangements and Characteristics, March 2002, Current Population Reports, P20-547, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, June 2003, (accessed July 19, 2004)
All children72,3216893,9177,91711,52811,95412,66912,49211,84223,36324,623
Two parents49,6666002,7785,5528,0288,3078,6158,5217,86416,35816,922
Child of householder48,8435962,7105,4107,8908,1918,4908,3887,76616,00916,680
Grandchild of householder47664561078971606430251131
Other relative of householder315521232464261596391102
Nonrelative of householder3217434411678
Householder has an unmarried partner—parent is not the householder or partner2131115625
Mother only16,4733688321,7232,5842,7243,0322,8652,7145,1395,755
Child of householder13,7473385681,2742,0712,2862,6412,4742,4343,9134,927
Grandchild of householder1,657120215355366246191180104936438
Other relative of householder524683661597274120103155146
Nonrelative of householder545691334881201259273135245
Mother is householder in an unmarried partner household21,430111121234254242258165155608500
Mother is partner in an unmarried partner household236957410529389675565182
Children under 15 years13,7593388321,7232,5842,7243,0322,865(X)5,1395,756
In a POSSLQ household31,562116129256337350313177(X)722663
Father only3,2971692334025064645445515981,1411,007
Child of householder2,851157193340449371479482537982850
Grandchild of householder275493342475038442212187
Other relative of householder92285126151515242330
Nonrelative of householder782628528129151440
Father is householder in an unmarried partner household21,0229413921222211913111088574250
Father is partner in an unmarried partner household259231222611610636
Children under 15 years2,699153233402506464544551(X)1,1411,008
In a POSSLQ household39048914421321413711580(X)572252
Neither parent2,88515875240410460479555667725939
Grandchild of householder1,27310526113196224238243233335462
Other relative of householder80284246710197127160226192224
Foster child2354551838473449436281
Nonrelative of householder575712041769180104164137171
Householder has an unmarried partner22164391332364043435476
Children under 15 years2,21813975240410460479555(X)725939
In a POSSLQ household31864061938414340(X)6283

attributed the growing trend in coresident grandparent/grandchildren families to the continuing incidence of divorce, the rise in single-parent households, parental substance abuse, teen pregnancy, AIDS, child abuse and neglect, and other similar factors.


Many American families who wanted to adopt a child considered two groups of available children:

  • Children, primarily infants, whose parents voluntarily gave them up for adoption. The parents generally worked through private adoption agencies or made private placements with adoptive families. The number of these adoptees was not tracked. Another source was children from other countries.
  • Children who had been placed in foster care based on court determination that they were abused or neglected, and for whom placement with adoptive families would serve the children's best interests


Adopted Children

A number of laws have been enacted to make it easier for families to adopt children.

  • The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (PL 103–3) enabled parents to take time off work to adopt a child without losing their jobs or health insurance.
  • The Interethnic Adoption Provisions of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 amended the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 (PL 103–382) to ensure adoption processes were free from discrimination and delays based on the race, culture, and ethnicity of the child or the prospective parents.
  • The Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (PL 106–279) facilitated immigration of foreign adopted children and placed requirements on states for supportive services.
  • The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (PL 106–395) provided automatic citizenship to both biological and adopted children of U.S. citizens who were born abroad and did not obtain citizenship at birth.
  • The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (PL 107–16) permanently extended the adoption credit implemented in 1996 and increased the maximum credit from $5,000 to $10,000 per eligible child.
  • The Adoption Promotion Act of 2003 (PL 108–145) reauthorized an adoption incentive program and provided additional incentives for adoption of children with special needs, including older children (age nine and up), from foster care.

The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC) estimated the 2004 cost of adoption from foster care at $0–$2,500. The cost of domestic adoption of a healthy infant ranged from $5,000 to $40,000, depending on the type of agency used and adoption circumstances. NAIC reported that fees to adopt a child from a foreign country ranged from $7,000 to $30,000, with additional fees possible depending on the country.

Intercountry Adoption

Many American families have chosen to adopt children from other countries. Because these foreign-born children required visas to enter the United States, the U.S.


Department of State maintains current records of the number of foreign adoptees. Foreign adoptions nearly tripled in the decade following 1993. That year, American families welcomed 7,377 foreign children. By 2003, the number of foreign adoptions had risen to 21,616 children. During that period China, Russia, South Korea, and Guatemala were the leading countries of origin for foreign adoptees.

Children in Foster Care

Foster care is an integral part of the child welfare system, designed to provide temporary respite and some stability for children whose families had difficulties parenting or are no longer able to care for them. Some children remain in foster care until their parents resolve their problems. Other children cannot safely return home, and arrangements for their long-term welfare are necessary.

In the 2003 Foster Care National Statistics, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that an estimated 542,000 children were in foster care on September 30, 2001. The report compared data for 1998 and 2001 to identify trends. The gender mix of children in foster care remained stable during the period with 52% male and 48% female. The percentage of African-American children in foster care dropped from 44% in 1998 to 38%


Characteristics of children who co-reside with grandparents, by presence of parents, March 2002
(in thousands)
With grandparents present
Grandparent is householderGrandparent is not householder
Parent PresentNo parents presentParent is householder
CharacteristicTotalTotal with grand-parentsTotal in grand-parent's householdTotalGrandmother and grandfatherGrandmother onlyGrandfather onlyTotalGrandmother and grandfatherGrandmother onlyGrandfather onlyTotalGrandmother and grandfatherGrandmother onlyGrandfather onlyParent is not householder
Age of child
Under 6 years old23,3632,3391,6441,309721721823351711382663510939313361
6 to 11 years old24,6231,7701,11865630729356462240201216199042810133
12 to 17 years old24,3351,4939204441752234647620225222547594107825
Race and ethnicity of child2
Asian and Pacific Islander3,2233618967441672219326248176389
Hispanic (of any race)12,8171,34178759132821053196101878504933248751
Presence of parents
Two parents49,6661,70647747725515567(X)(X)(X)(X)1,21716484021312
Mother only16,4732,2491,6581,65880775398(X)(X)(X)(X)503743379289
Father only3,29737327527514211419(X)(X)(X)(X)81215377
Neither parent2,8851,2731,274(X)(X)(X)(X)1,27461459169(X)(X)(X)(X)
Family income
Under $15,0009,5166115081783313213330592561588781014
$15,000 to $29,99912,0949957043891112542431513815423270281905221
$30,000 to $49,99915,1401,2789116262493077028516111311330662174737
$50,000 to $74,99914,4141,19071855629821840162119385456613059016
$75,000 and over21,1571,52784065951311036181137301465710344111330
Poverty status
Below 100 percent of poverty12,239988743362106217393819827013217241583528
100 to 199 percent of poverty15,6861,5121,0886962873575239217419226382592566742
200 percent of poverty and above44,3963,1011,8511,35081044793501342129301,20317681721048
Health insurance coverage
Covered by health insurance63,9074,2932,6371,856914802140817378394451,5392131,05327381
Not covered by health insurance8,4141,3091,0085512892194345723619724262461773938
Household receives public assistance
Receives assistance3,3725064172029498102155914610602461228
Does not receive assistance68,9495,0963,2652,2061,1109231731,059555445591,7412561,18530092
—Represents zero or rounds to zero.
X Not applicable.
1All people under age 18, excluding group quarters, householders, subfamily reference people, and their spouses.
2Data are not shown separately for the American Indian and Alaska Native population because of the small sample size in the Current Population Survey in March 2002.
3"MSA" refers to Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Note: Data based on the Annual Demographic Supplement to the March 2002 Current Population Survey.
source: Jason Fields, " Table 3. Characteristics of Children Who Co-Reside with Grandparents by Presence of Parents, March 2002," in Children's Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2002, Current Population Reports, P20-547, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, June 2003, (accessed July 19, 2004)
Household receives food stamps
Receives food stamps7,8739087024671742524123548178915991282245
Does not receive food stamps64,4484,6942,9801,9421,0297701431,038565413601,6422491,10329073
Household tenure
No cash rent1,26662342720617252251165
Type of residence3
Central city, in MSA20,9712,0421,37689334648760483189279156021044098963
Outside central city, in MSA38,1942,6411,5771,09864736784479260186331,02213770817742
Outside MSA13,1559197274172111673931016512520178171144715



in 2001. The percentage of other races increased slightly, to 37% white and 8% listed as other races. Seventeen percent of children in foster care were Hispanic.

The age of children entering and exiting the foster care system remained unchanged between 1998 and 2001. The median age of entry was 8.7 years and the median age of exit was 10.2 years. However, the median age of all children in the system rose from 9.5 years in 1998 to 10.6 years in 2001. The length of time children stayed in foster care also remained relatively stable with 19% of children remaining from one to two years in 2001. (See Figure 3.4.)

The distribution of children in the various types of placement settings remained relatively unchanged, although fewer children were placed with relatives in 2001 than in 1998. Almost half of all foster children (48%) were placed in foster homes with nonrelative families. Another 24% were placed in foster homes with relatives. Most of the other children were placed in group homes or other institutions. (See Figure 3.5.)

The primary goal for permanent placement of children in foster care was to return the child to his/her parents (referred to as "reunification"). Adoption was the second choice, followed by living with a relative or guardian, long-term foster care, or emancipation. Emancipation laws vary from state to state but generally allow a teenager to petition a court for the termination of parental rights and full independence. The most dramatic trend from 1998 to 2001 was a decrease in the number of children in foster care with no permanent placement goal. In 2001 11% of children lacked a permanent placement goal, a significant reduction from 23% in 1998.

While the number of children leaving foster care to live with relatives/guardians or adoptive families increased slightly between 1998 and 2001, the number of reunifications dropped five percentage points. Other outcomes, such as runaways and children transferred to other agencies, decreased one percentage point. Not all outcomes were successful. A median of 10.3% of children who entered foster care in 2001 reentered the system within twelve months of discharge.

Children Adopted from Foster Care

In 1997 the Clinton administration launched the "Adoption 2002" initiative with the goal of doubling the number of foster children adopted each year—from approximately twenty-seven thousand in 1996 to a projected fifty-four thousand in 2002. To this end, on November 19, 1997, President Bill Clinton signed the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (PL 105–89), which required, among other provisions, permanency hearings to be held no later than twelve months after a child entered foster care. The federal government offered financial incentives to states to increase adoption rates and provided technical assistance to states, courts, and communities in an effort to place children in adoptive homes within a shorter time frame.

Current or former foster youths sixteen and older could obtain government assistance during their transition to independent living through the Independent Living Program. This program provided grants to states for education and employment aid, training in daily living skills, and individual and group counseling.

children waiting to be adopted. In fiscal year 1998, 36,000 children were adopted from the public foster care system and 117,000 foster children awaited adoption. With more than 129,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted in 2004, Health & Human Services Secretary


Tommy G. Thompson launched a national public service advertising (PSA) campaign to increase public awareness. The new ads were part of a five-year, multifaceted initiative called "The Collaboration to AdoptUSKids." The PSAs focused on adoption of older children (ages eight to seventeen) who comprised 53% of the adoptable foster care population. Of these children, 44% were African-American. In announcing this campaign, Thompson noted that research showed that foster children who were not placed in permanent homes were less likely to graduate from high school and were at greater risk for homelessness, jail time, and reliance on welfare.

A Web site, www.AdoptUSKids, was launched in July 2002. It featured photographs and biographies of some seven thousand foster care children available for adoption. Within the first year, nearly three thousand children featured on the site were placed with adoptive families.


The Census Bureau estimated that there were 36.8 million children of elementary school age in 2003, a decrease of 274,000 children from 2000. Utah and Alaska had the highest proportion of their population in the five to thirteen age group (15% each). Texas, Arizona, California, and Idaho followed with 14% each. Nationally, children age five to thirteen averaged 13% of the population.


Number and percentage of homeschooled children, 1999 and 2003
Homeschooled students
School enrollment statusNumberPercentNumberPercent
source: "Table 1. Number and Percentage Distribution of Homeschooled Students, Ages 5 through 17 in Kindergarten through 12th Grades, by School Enrollment Status, 1999 and 2003," in 1.1 Million Home-schooled Students in the United States in 2003, NCES 2004-115, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, July 2004, (accessed August 9, 2004)
Homeschooled only697,00082.0898,00082.0
Enrolled in school part time153,00018.0198,00018.0
Enrolled in school for less than 9 hours a week107,00012.6137,00012.5
Enrolled in school for 9 to 25 hours a week46,0005.461,0005.6

The American Housing Survey 2003 revealed that 25.7% of the 105,842 occupied housing units in the nation were home to children aged five to fifteen. In 82% of these households, children attended K–12 public schools while 10% were enrolled in K–12 private schools. Another 1% of children in this age group were home-schooled.

A variety of school choice options—magnet schools, charter and contract schools, vouchers, alternative schools, and home-schooling—have been introduced since 1980 in an effort to reform education for American children. The choice to educate children at home required the greatest commitment of time and effort on the part of parents. According to a 2003 report by the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 1.1 million children were home-schooled in 2003. The report revealed that between 1999 and 2003 the percentage of school-age children being educated at home grew from 1.7% to 2.2%. While the majority of these students received all of their education at home, 18% spent twenty-five hours per week or less enrolled in school. (See Table 3.4.) In an article titled "Why Johnny Learns at Home" in the August 16, 2004, edition of Publishers Weekly, home-school media consultant Zan Tyler projected that "the growth of home-schooling will continue between 7% and 15% annually." The article cited "conservative estimates" of the number of home-schooled children at two million.

The leading reason (31%) for parents' choice of home-schooling was concern about the environment in other school options. Another 30% of parents chose home-schooling for religious reasons. Other reasons, such as family unity and individualized teaching prompted another 9% of parents to elect home-schooling.


Since the 1970s, one of the most dramatic changes in the structure of the American family has been the increased employment of mothers outside the home. According to the sixth annual interagency report America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2002, the share of all children with at least one parent working full-time increased from 70% in 1980 to 80% in 2000. Reflecting a tight economy and company downsizing efforts, the share of all children with at least one parent working full-time dropped to 78% in 2002. For children living in two-parent households, 89% had at least one parent working in 2002, compared to 80% in 1980. Forty-nine percent of single mothers and 70% of single fathers were working in 2002. (See Figure 3.6.)

Despite the growing number of women in the workforce, since 1994 the number of children in two-parent families with a stay-at-home mother and working father increased steadily. In 2002 about eleven million children, or 25% of children under age fifteen living with two married parents, had full-time stay-at-home mothers. About 189,000 similarly situated children had stay-at-home fathers and full-time working mothers in 2002. The number of fathers who remained at home to care for the family while their wives worked increased erratically between 1994 and 2004. (See Figure 3.7.)

As more and more mothers held paying jobs, the issue of child care became a great concern, not only for parents but also for policymakers. The implementation of welfare-reform legislation, which required welfare recipients to work, further pushed the problem of available child care to the forefront. While only one-third of children with single mothers saw their mothers employed full-time in 1980, that share increased to almost half of children with single mothers by 2002. (See Figure 3.6.)

For both single parents and two-parent working couples, child care presented significant challenges. Among preschool age children, 48% of 0–2 year olds and 25% of 3–6 year olds received total parental care from stay-at-home mothers or fathers in 2001. Some two-parent working couples worked different shifts to allow one parent to be at home with the children. In America's Children 2004 the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics compares the type of care received by children age zero to two and three to six (not yet in kindergarten) in 2001. For infants and toddlers (age zero to two) the distribution was almost 50–50 parental care and nonparental care. More than half of the older children were in center-based care such as daycare centers, pre-kindergartens, nursery schools, Head Start programs, and other early childhood education programs.

Once children started school, parents were still concerned about before and after school care. Almost half of children in kindergarten through third grade (K–3) and children in fourth through eighth grade (4–8) were cared for outside of school hours by a parent. Twenty-five percent of children in grades 4–8 were responsible for themselves before and after school while parents worked.



Nearly half of school-age children participated in some type of after-school activities that provided alternate supervision. Sports attracted 28% of K–3-grade children and 38% of 4–8-grade children. Another 18% of K–3- and 26% of 4–8-grade children were involved in religious activities. In addition, parents reported their children took part in after-school arts activities, clubs, academic programs, community service, and scouting.

Child Care for the Working Poor

Since the 1930s, the federal government has subsidized child care for low-income families. Government-funded programs such as Head Start, which began as a nutritional and health program for poor children in the 1960s, offered educational readiness to prepare children for school as part of the child-care program. The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), authorized by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PL 104–193), helped low-income families and those leaving the welfare rolls to obtain child care so they could pursue employment, job training, or education.

Some Employers Address Child-Care Problems

In the United States, employer-sponsored child-care benefits have been rare, although the trend toward on-site child care has increased. Some employers offer child-care reimbursement accounts funded with employee pretax contributions. Employees in medium and large establishments were more likely than those in smaller establishments to receive child-care benefits.

In 2002 a new Child Care Assistance Tax Credit became available to employers. Employers who provided child-care resources or facilities for employees could take a tax credit of up to $150,000 for actual expenses of the benefits provided. In a 2003 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of private industry employers, 5% of workers had access to employer sponsored on-site or off-site child care. Full-time employees earning $15 per hour or higher were more likely to have this option than part-time and lower paid workers. Just 3% of workers earning less than $15 per hour had employer provided child care, compared to 8% of higher paid workers. Employer sponsored child care was available to nearly four times as many workers in white-collar occupations (7%) as blue-collar occupations (2%). Companies with a hundred or more employees were more likely than smaller companies to provide child care. (See Table 3.5.)

Income Tax Credit

The Internal Revenue Service offered some assistance to working parents through the Dependent Care Tax Credit (DCTC). This credit applied not only to care for children under age thirteen but also to costs of care for other dependents, such as a spouse or parent who was physically or mentally incapable of self-care. The maximum credit for the 2003 tax year was $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two children. Some states offered tax credits as well. Those who made too little money to pay income tax, however, were not eligible to file for this income tax credit.


Children living in single-mother households represented 22.8% of all children living in families. Yet they also represented 51.7% of children living below poverty level, 62.3% of children receiving public assistance, and 61.1% of children receiving food stamps. By contrast, the 68.7% of children who lived with two parents represented just 31.8% of children living below poverty level. The percentage of children of single fathers living below poverty level was quite similar to their representation in the total population of children. (See Table 3.6.)

Children in Poverty

In America's Children 2004 the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics reported that the poverty rate for children living with families rose from 15.8% in 2001 to 16.3% in 2002. This marked the first statistically significant increase since the child poverty rate peaked at 22% in 1993. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in Household Food Security in the United States, 2002 that over thirteen million children under age eighteen (18.8% of all children) lived in food insecure households, and 567,000 of these children went hungry during the year.

Teens in the Workforce

By the time they were teenagers, many children begin to seek some type of work experience. Census figures show that of the twelve million minors age fifteen to seventeen in 2002, 25% were counted in the labor force.


Employer assistance for child care, 2003
Employer assistance for child care
CharacteristicsTotalEmployer provided fundsOn-site and off-site child careChild care resource and referral services
source: Adapted from "Table 4. Percentage of Workers with Access to Selected Benefits, by Selected Characteristics, Private Industry, National Compensation Survey, March 2003," in Employee Benefits in Private Industry, 2003, U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2003, (accessed August 25, 2004)
All employees183510
Worker characteristics:
White-collar occupations265715
Blue-collar occupations10126
Service occupations10245
Full time214512
Part time11245
Average wage less than $15 per hour11235
Average wage $15 per hour or higher315818
Establishment characteristics:
1–99 workers7223
100 workers or more325819
Geographic areas:
Metropolitan areas214512
Nonmetropolitan areas5222
New England224812
Middle Atlantic242614
East North Central213611
West North Central17368
South Atlantic15439
East South Central16447
West South Central14238

While most of these working youths held part-time jobs, 7% worked full-time and 21% were unemployed. The high unemployment rate for teens who had been in the workforce, compared to a 5.8% unemployment rate for adults in 2002, reflected the need for additional training and skills as well as a shortage of part-time jobs. Teens living in inner city metropolitan areas experienced 24.7% unemployment while about 20% of their counterparts in suburban, small-town, and rural areas were unemployed. While African-American teens had the second-lowest workforce participation rate at 17%—the rate for Asian and Pacific Islander teens stood at 16.7%—they also experienced the highest rate of unemployment at 39.7%. (See Table 3.7.)

Contrary to the image of children in poor or single-parent families forced to go to work to help support the family, children in two-parent families were more likely to be in the workforce than children in single-parent families in 2002, according to the same Census report. Additionally, the


Children's economic situation by family structure, March 20021
CharacteristicTotalTwo parentsMother onlyFather onlyNeither parent
— Represents zero or rounds to zero.
1All people under age 18, excluding group quarters, householders, subfamily reference people, and their spouses.
source: Jason Fields, "Table 7. Children's Economic Situation by Family Structure, March 2002," in Children's Living Arrangements and Characteristics, March 2002, Current Population Reports, P20-547, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, June 2003, (accessed July 19,2004)
Family income
Under $15,0009,5161,9935,7065591,257
$15,000 to $29,99912,0945,7054,933939516
$30,000 to $49,99915,14010,3603,328963489
$50,000 to $74,99914,41412,1601,493455307
$75,000 and over21,15719,4471,013380316
Poverty status
Below 100 percent of poverty12,2393,8956,3266381,380
100 to 199 percent of poverty15,6869,1474,949935655
200 percent of poverty and above44,39636,6235,1991,723851
Household receives public assistance
Receives assistance3,3727762,101154340
Does not receive assistance68,94948,88914,3723,1432,545
Household receives food stamps
Receives food stamps7,8732,2134,813418430
Does not receive food stamps64,44847,45311,6602,8792,455
Household tenure
No cash rent1,2669382374448
Family income
Under $15,000100.020.960.05.913.2
$15,000 to $29,999100.
$30,000 to $49,999100.068.422.06.43.2
$50,000 to $74,999100.084.410.43.22.1
$75,000 and over100.
Poverty status
Below 100 percent of poverty100.031.851.75.211.3
100 to 199 percent of poverty100.058.331.66.04.2
200 percent of poverty and above100.082.511.73.91.9
Household receives public assistance
Receives assistance100.
Does not receive assistance100.070.920.84.63.7
Household receives food stamps
Receives food stamps100.
Does not receive food stamps100.073.618.14.53.8
Household tenure
No cash rent100.

percentage of children in the workforce increased with the level of education of their parents and family income. Only 17% of children in families with incomes under $15,000 were counted in the workforce, compared to 28% of children whose families had incomes of $50,000 or more.


Each year the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided estimates of annual family expenditures on children from their birth through age seventeen. These estimates were used by states to determine child support guidelines and foster care payments, by courts to determine compensation in personal injury and wrongful death cases, and for public education of anyone considering when or whether to have a child. Estimates are tied to family income. In 2003 the average household in the lowest income group spent 28% of their before-tax annual income on a child, while those in the highest income group spent 14%. In actual dollars, however, the highest income group spent twice the amount spent by the lowest income group. Such studies


Children ages 15–17 years by their labor force status and selected characteristics, March 20021
(In thousands)
In the labor force
CharacteristicTotalNot in labour forceNumberPercent in the labor forceFull timePart timeTotalUnemployment rate4
1The universe for this table is children age 15 to 17 years. Only the population 15 and over have labor force data recorded for them in the CPS. Children under age 15, householders, subfamily reference people, their spouses, and those in group quarters are excluded from this table.
2Full-time employment is 35 hours or more of work in the previous week. Part-time employment is less than 35 hours of work in the previous week.
3Data are not shown separately for the American Indian and Alaska Native population because of the small sample size in the Current Population Survey in March 2002.
4The unemployment rate is the percent unemployed of the population in the labor force.
5"MSA" refers to Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Note: Data based on the Annual Demographic Supplement to the March 2002 Current Population Survey.
source: Jason Fields, "Table 6. Children Age 15–17 Years by Their Labor Force Status and Selected Characteristics, March 2002," in Children's Living Arrangements and Characteristics, March 2002, Current Population Reports, P20-547, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, June 2003, (accessed July 19, 2004)
Children 15–17 years11,8428,8532,98925.22082,15862320.8
Age of child
15 years old3,9763,6063709.3312459425.4
16 years old3,9882,9451,04226.16174024123.1
17 years old3,8782,3021,57640.61161,17328718.2
Sex of child
Race and ethnicity of child3
Asian and Pacific Islander5704759516.76741515.8
Hispanic (of any race)1,7301,40033019.1671838024.2
Presence of parents
Two parents7,8645,8192,04626.0981,59735117.2
Mother only2,7142,09661822.84139518229.4
Father only59845614223.711923927.5
Neither parent66748218427.658755127.7
Education of parent
Less than high school1,7041,35235220.7561979928.1
High school degree3,4862,60887825.23863520523.3
Some college3,1152,25686027.63565517019.8
Bachelor's degree or more2,8712,15571624.9215979813.7
No parents present66748218427.658755127.7
Family income
Under $15,0001,2631,05620516.2321017235.1
$15,000 to $29,9991,7051,36434120.01720911533.7
$30,000 to $49,9992,5141,88163325.25442915023.7
$50,000 to $74,9992,3421,68865327.94647713019.9
$75,000 and over4,0192,8621,15728.85894315613.5
Type of residence5
Central city, in MSA3,1832,51866520.96443716424.7
Outside central city, in MSA6,3724,6571,71526.91041,27533619.6
Outside MSA2,2881,67861026.74044712320.2

demonstrated a fact of life for families—no matter what the income bracket, it was expensive to raise a child.

At all income levels, housing was the greatest child-rearing expense. In the average middle-income family, housing accounted for 34% of expenses for a child in 2003. Food was the second-largest expense across all income levels. (See Figure 3.8.)

Children's needs became more expensive as they grew older. At all income levels food, transportation, clothing, and health expenses related to child-rearing increased as the child grew. Figure 3.9 depicts the shifting distribution of annual child-rearing expenses for a middle income, husband-wife family as a child grew from birth through age seventeen. Food became a greater proportion of expense between the ages of six and eleven. Child-care expenses decreased significantly at age six when the child entered school. The hours spent in school reduced the number of hours of costly daycare required for working parents.


Where the family lived in 2003 influenced the cost of raising a child. Expenses were highest in urban areas of the West and the Northeast, which had the highest housing costs. Average child-rearing expenses were lowest in the urban Midwest and rural areas where housing and overall cost of living were lower. (See Figure 3.10.)

The impact of child-rearing expenses was greater for single-parent families. Table 3.8 compares expenses for average single-parent and husband-wife families with


Family expenditures on a child, by lower income single-parent and husband-wife households, 2003*
Age of childSingle-parent householdsHusband-wife households
*Estimates are for the younger child in two-child families in the overall United States.
source: Mark Lino, "Table 1. Family Expenditures on a Child, by Lower Income Single-Parent and Husband-Wife Households, 2003," in Expenditures on Children by Families, 2003, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, 2003, (accessed August 5, 2004)
Total (0–17)$123,750$130,290

annual before-tax incomes less than $40,700. About 83% of single-parent households and 33% of husband-wife households fell in this income group in the 2003 USDA study Expenditures in Children by Families. Single-parent families, with an average annual income of $17,000, had significantly lower financial resources than husband-wife families who averaged $25,400 per year in income. Yet child-rearing costs did not vary significantly between the two types of families. As a result, child-rearing expenses consumed a greater portion of the annual income of single-parent families.

A college education was often the largest expense faced by parents after children pass age seventeen. Using information from the College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2003, the USDA estimated average total charges for tuition and fees and room and board during the 2003–04 school year were $9,929 at four-year public institutions and $23,443 at four-year private schools.



About this article

The Children of America

Updated About content Print Article