Frequently Asked Questions

Overview

FAQs

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Answers to some frequently asked questions about poverty and inequality.

FAQ

How is poverty measured in the United States?

There are two official measures of poverty: poverty guidelines and poverty thresholds.  Both of these measures are intended to identify the level of income necessary to meet basic needs.

FAQ

What are the poverty thresholds today?

The most recent thresholds issued by the Census Bureau are for 2012.

Poverty thresholds are the dollar amounts used by the Census Bureau to determine poverty status. 

FAQ

How many people are poor?
What is the current poverty rate?

In 2012,  46.2 million people in the United States lived in poverty. The nation’s official poverty rate was 15.0%.

FAQ

How do race and Hispanic origin relate to poverty?

The Census Bureau’s historical poverty tables provide the breakdown for race and Hispanic origin.

FAQ

How is poverty status related to age?

In 2012, the poverty rates by age were

  • 9.1% of people 65 years of age and over
  • 13.7% of people 18 to 64 years of age
  • 21.8% of people under age 18
FAQ

How does gender relate to poverty status?

 

In 2012, the poverty rates by gender were

  • 13.6% for males 
  • 16.3% for females
FAQ

How does nativity relate to poverty status?

In 2012, the poverty rates by nativity were

  • 12.4% for naturalized citizens
  • 14.3% for native born
  • 19.2% for the foreign born (naturalized and non-citizens)
  • 24.9 for non-citizens
FAQ

How is poverty status related to disability?

In 2012, the poverty rates by disability status* were

  • 12.5% for those without a disability
  • 28.4% for those with a disability
FAQ

How does family structure relate to poverty?

 

In 2011, 11.8% of all families were in poverty. 

FAQ

What do we know about the geographic concentration of poverty?

People living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain neighborhoods rather than evenly distributed across geographic areas.

FAQ

How does geography relate to poverty?

In 2012, the nation’s official poverty rate was 15%.

The poverty rates by geographic region were:

  • 13.6% of all people in the Northeast
  • 13.3% of all people in the Midwest
  • 16.5% of all people in the South
  • 15.1% of all people in the West
FAQ

What are poverty rates among working adults?

The Census Bureau reports poverty rates by work experience for people ages 18 to 64.  In 2012, the overall poverty rate for people ages 18 to 64 was 13.7%

FAQ

Who are the working poor?

The majority of the people who live below the poverty level do not work

In 2011, 46.2 million people were poor.  According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 10.4 million or 22.5% of the poor were “working poor.” 

FAQ

What are the annual earnings for a full-time minimum wage worker?

Since it was first instituted in 1938, the federal minimum wage has established a floor for wages. While not every worker is eligible, it provides a minimum of earnings for the lowest-paid workers. 

FAQ

What are the characteristics of minimum wage workers?

In 2012, 75.3 million workers (or 59% of all wage and salary workers) in the United States age 16 and over were paid hourly wages. 

Among those 1.6 million workers earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Another 2 million had wages below the federal minimum.  Together these workers make up 4.7% of all hourly paid workers.

FAQ

What do we know about children in poverty?

 

In 2012, the poverty rate for children under 18 was 21.8%.  

For children under 6 years of age, the rate was 24.4%.

FAQ

What do we know about poverty and shared households?

In 2011, almost 1 in 5 households included an “additional adult” — someone who was not the householder, the householder’s spouse or cohabiting partner. 

Between 2007 and 2011, the number and percentage of all adults who were additional adults  increased for the nation as a whole and in 40 states.

Using data from the American Community Survey, Census Bureau researchers see some evidence that these shifts in living arrangement had an economic dimension.

FAQ

What do we know about hunger and poverty?

The U.S.D.A.’s Economic Research Service monitors the extent and severity of food insecurity in U.S. households through a supplement to the Current Population Survey. Responses to a series of 18 questions are used to determine whether a household is food insecure.

FAQ

What do we know about poverty spells?

The official poverty statistics do not track individuals or households over time so there are no official data on poverty spells.

FAQ

How does poverty relate to health insurance coverage?

According to data from the Census Bureau,  in 2012 47.3 million people under age 65 (18%) had no health insurance; 9% of all children were uninsured and those ages 19-34 were least likely to be insured (27% uninsured).

While 8.9% of all children were uninsured, the rate for children in poverty was 12.9% as compared to 7.7% of children not in poverty.

FAQ

How is poverty related to access to care and preventive healthcare?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention produce data on health and healthcare in the United States. Their annual statistical yearbook, Health, United States includes a variety of tables with breakdowns by poverty status.

In 2011, their data for children under 18 with “no usual source of healthcare” show

  • 4.7% of all children had no usual source of healthcare; for poor children the rate was 6.8%

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