Since you are looking at this site with an older browser, you will not be able to see any graphics or formatting. For better results, please upgrade your browser.

Parental Employment Does Not Guarantee Health Insurance for Children

Authors: Heather Koball and Ayana Douglas-Hall
Publication Date: September 2004

In every state, the vast majority of low-income parents work either full-time or part-time1. However, almost one in every five children in a low-income family still lacks health insurance.

Most Children in Low-Income Families Have a Working Parent

Low-income children with employed parents

Figure 1: Low-income children with employed parents

Eighty-four percent of children in low-income families live with a parent who works either part-time or full-time. The percent of low-income children with working parents differs across states, although in every state a substantial majority of low-income parents are employed. For example, the lowest rate of employment is in Louisiana, where 75 percent of low-income children have employed parents (the District of Columbia is lower at 67 percent), compared to 95 percent in Wyoming (see Table). Low-income parents who live in the western states are more likely to be employed than low-income parents in eastern states (see Map 1).

Parental Employment Does Not Guarantee Health Insurance

Low-income children with health insurance

Figure 2: Low-income children with health insurance

Employed parents do not always have access to affordable health insurance for their children. Nationwide, 18 percent of children in low-income families lack any type of health insurance. The percent varies widely across states. In Texas, just 69 percent of children in low-income families have health insurance, while in Vermont 93 percent do (see Table). Lack of health insurance is an issue primarily faced by children living in western states (see Map 2).

Public health insurance use lowest in western states

Low-income children receiving public health insurance

Figure 3: Low-income children receiving public health insurance

50-state comparisons

Figure 4: 50-state comparisons

Public health insurance, such as Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), provide free or low-cost health insurance to children in low-income families. Because of state differences in application procedures and eligibility, use of these health insurance programs can vary greatly.

Across the United States, almost half (47 percent) of children in low-income families receive public health insurance; however, this varies from 27 percent receiving public health insurance in Colorado and Nevada to more than twice as many (64 percent) receiving it in Vermont (the District of Columbia is higher at 70 percent) (see Table). Not surprisingly, many of the western states in which low-income children are least likely to have any health insurance also have the lowest rates of public health insurance use (see Map 3).

Estimates in this fact sheet were prepared by Heather Koball and Ayana Douglas-Hall of NCCP based on the U.S Current Population Survey (CPS), Annual Social and Economic Supplement for March 2001-2003; final figures represent the average data over calendar years 2000, 2001, and 2002.

1. Low-income is defined as income below twice the poverty level, which research suggests is the minimum income level necessary to meet basic needs. The federal poverty level was $18,850 for a family of four in 2004.