Low Income Families

By:Natalie Hill

Definition and Characteristics:

Children who are from families with inadequate income. Low-income working families are defined as those earning less than twice the federal poverty line.


  • Low-income children are more likely than higher-income children to live in stressful home environments and with parents reporting symptoms of poor mental health.
  • Language and behavioral characteristics are associated with being from a low-income background.
  • Less likely to be highly engaged in school activities and more likely to exhibit high levels of emotional and behavioral problems (The Urban Institute, 2005).

Diagnostic Criteria:

  • Poverty = family income less than 100 percent of the poverty threshold.


  • Low income = family income less than 200 percent of the poverty threshold.


What is Federal Poverty Level?


Federal Poverty Level (FPL) = A measure of income level issued annually by the Department of Health and Human Services. Therefore, research suggests on average, families need an income equal to about two times the federal poverty level to meet their most basic needs.


How Do You Define a family as "Low-Income"?


Families with incomes below this level are referred to as low-income:

  • $44,700 for a family of four.
  • $37,060 for a family of three.
  • $29,420 for a family of two


(National Center for Children in Poverty, 2013).

Classifications of Severity:

There are more than 72 million children under 18 years old in the United States:


  • 45 percent – 32.4 million – live in low-income families.
  • 22 percent – 16.1 million – live in poor families.
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Prevalence Data:

  • Nationwide, about 15 percent of Americans and 22 percent of children under the age of 18 (more than 16 million children) are living in poverty, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty (Bidwell, 2015).
  • The number of low-income working families rose from 10.2 million in 2010 to 10.4 million in 2011, representing nearly one-third of all working families (Population Reference Bureau, 2013).

  • In 2011, the low-income threshold for a family of four with two children was $45,622

    (Population Reference Bureau 2013).

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Etiology/Possible Causes:

  • Amount of education, skill, experience, intelligence.
  • Health, handicaps, age.
  • Droughts and floods.
  • Natural Disasters.
  • Agricultural cycles (farmers).
  • Low hourly wages.

(The Global Development Research Center, 2013).