New research: 73% of Pennsylvania’s Black Children Lived in Financial Hardship Pre-Pandemic

New report and interactive tools reveal that federal poverty data undercounts how many children of all races are growing up amid financial insecurity.

HARRISBURG, PA – The majority of Pennsylvania’s Black and Hispanic children — 73% and 69% respectively — lived in households that couldn’t afford the basics in 2019, compared to 33% of white children, according to a new report from United Way of Pennsylvania and its research partner United For ALICE.

ALICE in Focus: Children reveals the disproportionate impact of financial hardship on the state’s Black and Hispanic children, while also challenging the reliance on federal poverty guidelines for eligibility for assistance programs. The report finds traditional measures of poverty have severely undercounted the number of children of all races ages 18 and younger in PA who are growing up in financially insecure households.

While 17% of all children in the state were deemed in poverty in 2019, the report shows that 27% lived in families defined as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). ALICE households earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than what it costs to live and work in the modern economy. Combined, 44% of PA’s children lived in households below the ALICE Threshold, with income that doesn’t meet the basic costs of housing, child care, health care, transportation and a smartphone plan.

“Undercounting the number of children who are at risk can have lifelong consequences,” said Kristen Rotz, President of United Way of Pennsylvania. “Thousands of children are locked out of receiving critical supports for stable housing, food, and quality education, all of which can inhibit healthy child development.”

United Way of Pennsylvania recently released a report on the benefits of a refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit which, at 20% of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit could lift over 10,000 children out of poverty in PA. Black and Hispanic families will receive a greater benefit than the state average, which will incrementally help address the income inequality that contributes to higher poverty rates and income instability in Black and Hispanic households across Pennsylvania. The Federal Earned Income Tax Credit is one of the most successful antipoverty programs in America which reduces the tax burden of low- to moderate income working individuals and households.

“Smart policies such as a refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit can provide a needed financial boost for ALICE families who often do not qualify for public assistance” Rotz said. “EITC puts taxpayer earnings back into the pockets of working families which will benefit children across the commonwealth.”

Other findings from ALICE in Focus: Children include:

  • Nearly 604,000 at-risk children didn’t access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.
  • Having two working parents didn’t guarantee financial stability: Among households with two working adults, 21% of Pennsylvanian children were living in families whose income didn’t meet the cost of basic needs in 2019.
  • Of all preschool-age children in Pennsylvania, 43% were enrolled in preschool in 2019, lower than the national average of 49%
  • 312,000 children in households earning below the ALICE Threshold had no high-speed internet access at home.

More data is available through the ALICE in Focus: Children interactive data dashboard – which provides filters for regional and local geographies, age, race, disability status, living arrangements and household work status. Visit

ALICE in Focus: Children is the first installment in the ALICE in Focus Research Series, which draws from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Samples (PUMS). Each installment in the series will highlight a specific segment within the ALICE demographic. Upcoming topics include people with disabilities and veterans.

About United Way of Pennsylvania (UWP)

United Way of Pennsylvania is a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to champion United Way as a leader and partner in building more financially resilient families and thriving communities throughout Pennsylvania. United Way of Pennsylvania envisions an inclusive, impactful and collaborative network of United Ways working with business, community, faith and government leaders to advance equitable access to health, education and financial stability for all Pennsylvanians.

United Way is committed to raising charitable dollars that are invested in community impact work which addresses needs specific to the local community. In many cases, these funds support public-private partnerships that further leverage state taxpayer dollars.

United Way also commits to advocate for policy change which will help more Pennsylvania families and communities achieve the basic building blocks of a good quality of life in Pennsylvania. UWP is a membership organization which serves as the voice for 43 member United Ways and 2 United Funds across the Commonwealth.

About United For ALICE 

United For ALICE is a driver of innovation, research and action to improve life across the country for ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and for all. Through the development of the ALICE measurements, a comprehensive, unbiased picture of financial hardship has emerged. Harnessing this data and research on the mismatch between low-paying jobs and the cost of survival, ALICE partners convene, advocate and collaborate on solutions that promote financial stability at local, state and national levels. This grassroots ALICE movement, led by United Way of Northern New Jersey, has spread to 24 states and includes United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Washington, D.C., West Virginia and Wisconsin; we are United For ALICE. For more information, visit:

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