2019’s States with the Most Underprivileged Children

By Adam McCann

In an ideal world, all children would live worry-free and have access to their basic needs: nutritious food, a good education, quality health care and a secure home. Emotionally, they all would feel safe and be loved and supported by caring adults. When all such needs are met, children have a better chance of a stable and happy adult life. But in reality, not every child is so privileged — even in the richest and most powerful nation in the world.

The U.S., in fact, has the seventh highest rate of child poverty — over 29 percent — among economically developed countries. And according to the Children’s Defense Fund, a child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds and the total costs of maltreatment per year reach $80.3 billion.

But some states address the problems of underprivileged children better than others. To determine where children are most disadvantaged, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 26 key indicators of neediness. Our data set ranges from share of children in households with below-poverty income to child food-insecurity rate to share of maltreated children. Read on for our findings, expert insight on how to improve conditions for children and a full description of our methodology. 1 Main Findings 2 Ask the Experts 3 Methodology

Main Findings

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States with the Most Underprivileged Children

Overall Rank* State Total Score ‘Socio-economic Welfare’ Rank ‘Health’ Rank ‘Education’ Rank
1District of Columbia61.6711318
2New Mexico60.265111
3West Virginia58.502721
13South Dakota48.552867
14South Carolina48.25121420
25North Carolina40.53243131
27New York39.27213633
36Rhode Island34.82293940
39North Dakota31.87444125
50New Hampshire23.73505037
51New Jersey19.95455151

*No. 1 = Most Underprivileged

Ask the Experts

All children deserve a fulfilling childhood, but not every child will experience one. In order to identify key problem areas and learn how best to address them, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts on the following key questions:

  1. What are the most efficient and effective programs for equalizing opportunity for children?
  2. Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? How might recent proposals to cut Medicaid influence health care access for children?
  3. In evaluating the best and worst states for underprivileged children, what are the top five indicators?
  • Townsand Price-Spratlen Associate Professor, Ohio State University, Department of Sociology
  • Michael P. Maratsos Professor, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota
  • Terri Friedline Ph.D. – Associate Professor, University of Michigan
  • Neal M. Horen Ph.D. – Associate Professor, Georgetown University
  • Trina R. Shanks Ph.D. – Director, SSW Community Engagement, Associate Professor of Social Work, School of Social Work, and Faculty Associate, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, School of Social Work, University of Michigan


In order to assess the living and economic conditions of children across the nation, WalletHub compared the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia across three key dimensions: 1) Socio-economic Welfare, 2) Health and 3) Education.

We evaluated those dimensions using 26 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the worst conditions for children. Except where noted otherwise, all references to “children” in the metrics below refer to the population aged 0 to 17 years.

Finally, we determined each state and the District’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.

Socio-economic Welfare – Total Points: 50

  • Share of Children in Foster Care: Double Weight (~8.00 Points)
  • Share of Children in Single-Parent Families: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
  • Share of Children Living with Grandparents & No Parent in the Home: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
  • Children in Renter vs. Owner Households: Half Weight (~2.00 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the ratio of children living in renter-occupied housing units to children living in owner-occupied housing units.
  • Unaccompanied Homeless Children & Youth Rate: Double Weight (~8.00 Points)
  • Share of Children Living in Low-Income Households Where No Adults Work: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
  • Share of Children under 18 Years Whose Parents Lack Secure Employment: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
    Note: The share of all children under age 18 years living in families where no parent has regular, full-time employment.
  • Share of Children Living in Households with Below-Poverty Income: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
  • Change in the Share of Children Living in Households with Below-Poverty Income: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
  • Share of Children Living in Extreme Poverty: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the share of children living in families earning incomes less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Economic Mobility: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)

Health – Total Points: 25

  • Share of Maltreated Children: Double Weight (~4.17 Points)
  • Share of Adolescents 9th to 12th Grade Who Felt Sad or Hopeless During the Past Year: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
    Note: Students who live in poverty experience a greater degree of adverse experiences, which contributes to mental illness.
  • Child Food-Insecurity Rate: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
  • Infant Mortality Rate (per 1,000 Births): Double Weight (~4.17 Points)
  • Child Death Rate: Double Weight (~4.17 Points)
    Note: Child include the population aged 1 to 14 years. Death rate is calculated on 100,000 population.
  • Share of Children Suffering from Depression: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
  • Share of Uninsured Children: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
  • Share of Poor Children Lacking All Seven Recommended Vaccines: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
    Note: “Recommended vaccines” include the following: DTaP vaccine; polio vaccine; measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine; Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine; varicella (chicken pox) vaccine; hepatitis B (HepB) vaccine; and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). “Poor children” include the population aged 19 to 35 months who live in households with incomes below poverty level.
  • Share of Children with Unaffordable Medical Bills: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the share of children aged 0 to 17 years living in families who had problems or were unable to pay for the child’s medical bills.

Education – Total Points: 25

  • Public High School Graduation Rate: Full Weight (~4.17 Points)
  • Public High School Graduation Rate Among Economically Disadvantaged Students: Full Weight (~4.17 Points)
  • Young Children Not Enrolled in School: Full Weight (~4.17 Points)
    Note: “Young Children” include the population aged 3 to 4 years.
  • State Pre-K Funding per Preschool-Aged Resident: Full Weight (~4.17 Points)
  • Quality of Public School System: Full Weight (~4.17 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “States with the Best & Worst School Systems” ranking.
  • Share of Teens Neither Attending School Nor Working: Full Weight (~4.17 Points)
    Note: “Teens” include the population aged 16 to 19 years.

 Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from of the U.S. Census Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Education Statistics, National Alliance to End Homelessness, Equality of Opportunity Project, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, National Institute for Early Education Research, Feeding America and WalletHub research.

Adam McCann is a financial writer for WalletHub.

This article appeared August 7 here at WalletHub.

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