What is the current poverty rate in the
United States?

Current estimates on poverty in the U.S.
The official poverty rate is 12.7 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s
2016 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty
according to the official measure. According to supplemental poverty measure,
the poverty rate was 14.0 percent.
The official poverty measure was developed in the 1960s in conjunction with
President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Each September the U.S. Census
Bureau releases an update of the national poverty rate for the prior year.
The official measure today is based on data from the Current Population Survey
Annual Social and Economic Supplement. The survey is sent to U.S.
households, so the poverty estimates do not include those who are homeless.
The sample also excludes military personnel who do not live with at least one
civilian adult as well as incarcerated adults.
While poverty rates according to the official and supplemental measures
fluctuate from year to year, so do incomes relative to the Federal Poverty Level
(FPL). According to the Census Bureau, 18.5 million people reported deep
poverty, which means a household income below 50 percent of their 2016
poverty threshold. These individuals represented an estimated 5.8 percent of all
Americans and 45.6 percent of those in poverty.
How high has the poverty rate in the U.S. been historically?
Historically, the official poverty rate in the United States had ranged from a high
of 22.4 percent when it was first estimated for 1959 to a low of 11.1 percent in
1973. Since its initial rapid decline after 1964 with the launch of major War on
Poverty programs, the poverty rate has fluctuated between around 11 and 15

Individuals also transition into and out of poverty over time, though many of
those who are poor at any given time will spend multiple spells in poverty.
Research shows that transitions into or out of poverty often happens after major
life events such as marriage, divorce, or sudden changes in income. These
transitions also can be associated with larger shifts in unemployment or wages.
What is the difference between the official and supplemental poverty
The official poverty measure triples the inflation-adjusted cost of a minimum
food diet and creates thresholds based on family size, composition and the age
of the householder. Anyone living in a household with an income below their
relative poverty threshold is considered to be in poverty.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services develops their Federal
Poverty Guideline income thresholds based on the official poverty measure
estimates. These income thresholds are used to determine eligibility for federal
safety net programs, such as Medicaid or WIC.
Since the 1960s, new poverty measures, including the U.S. Census Bureau’s
supplemental measure, provide a more complex understanding of poverty in
the United States. The supplemental measure includes basic costs of living that

can vary across states. It also includes transfers from safety net programs and in-
kind benefits.

Updated 12/18/17
For more information:
Semega, J; Fotenot, KR; Kollar, MA. Income and Poverty in the United States :
2016. Census Bureau, September 2017.

What is the current poverty rate in the United States? How is poverty measured in
the United States?
What is “deep poverty”?
Data on those with incomes below 50 percent of poverty thresholds
The U.S. Census Bureau defines “deep poverty” as living in a household with a total cash
income below 50 percent of its poverty threshold. According to the Census Bureau, in 2016
18.5 million people lived in deep poverty. Those in deep poverty represented 5.8 percent of
the total population and 45.6 percent of those in poverty.
Read more »

By 2010, the Census
Bureau employed
optical scanners and
computer software were
used to convert
questionnaires into
electronic data. Photo
courtesy U.S. Census

How is poverty measured in the
United States?
The two federal poverty measures in the U.S.
Each year, the U.S. Census Bureau counts people in poverty with
two measures. Both the official and supplemental poverty
measures are based on estimates of the level of income needed
to cover basic needs. Those who live in households with earnings
below those incomes are considered to be in poverty.

Read more »

What is the current poverty rate in the United States? The Supplemental Poverty
Measure: A Better Measure for Poverty in America?
What are the poverty thresholds
from the Census Bureau
Poverty thresholds are the income dollar amounts used by the U.S. Census Bureau solely as
a statistical yardstick to determine a household’s poverty status. They are issued each year in
September and are the basis for determining the national poverty rate.
Read more

The Center for Poverty Research

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