Frequently Asked Questions

Overview

FAQs on Poverty

This FAQ answers common questions about poverty in the U.S. These include how many people live in poverty and who they are, as well as dynamics that affect life in poverty, such as geography, age, race and health.

How is poverty measured in the United States?
Thresholds, guidelines and other estimates

There are two official measures of poverty created by the U.S. Census Bureau. The poverty guidelines and poverty thresholds are both measures that are intended to identify the level of income necessary to meet basic needs. Both are updated annually.

What are the poverty thresholds today?
from the Census Bureau

Poverty thresholds are the dollar amounts used by the U.S. Census Bureau to determine poverty status. The most recent thresholds issued are for 2014.

FAQ

What is “deep poverty”?
Data on families with incomes below 50% of the poverty threshold

According to the Census Bureau, in 2013 nearly 20 million people lived in families with income below one-half of their poverty threshold.  While thresholds vary by the size and composition of the household, for a single individual “deep poverty” would be an income below $6060 in 2013.

What are the major federal safety net programs in the U.S.?
A summary of efforts to reduce poverty in the U.S.

The War on Poverty began in 1964 with a stream of legislation that in two years would build the foundation of today’s social safety net. Today’s safety net includes means-tested programs, which require proof of low income to qualify, as well as major benefit programs which are not based on income, such as Social Security and Medicare.

 

How do race and Hispanic origin relate to poverty?
Official data for specific groups

In 2014, the overall poverty rate in the United States was 15%.  The rates for racial and ethnic subgroups ranged from 10% to 26%.

How is poverty status related to age?
Official data for age groups

In 2014, the nation’s official poverty rate was 15%.  The poverty rates by age groups ranged from 10% to 21%.

How does nativity relate to poverty status?
Official data on foreign- and native-born

In 2014, the nation’s official poverty rate was 15%.  Poverty rates by nativity ranged from 14% to 19%.

FAQ

How is poverty status related to disability?
Official data breakdown

In 2014, the overall poverty rate was 15%.  Poverty rates by disability status* in the United States ranged from 12% to 29%.

FAQ

How does level of education relate to poverty?
Official data breakdown

The Census Bureau reports poverty rates by educational attainment for people aged 25 and older.  In 2014, the overall poverty rate for people aged 25 and older was 12%. 

How does geography relate to poverty?
Official data for region and residence

In 2014, the nation’s official poverty rate was 15%.  The poverty rates by geographic region ranged from 13% to 17%.

What do we know about the geographic concentration of poverty?
Estimates from the American Community Survey

 

In 2010, 15% of people lived in poverty.  Poverty is not evenly distributed across neighborhoods and every state has neighborhoods with higher than average poverty rates. 

What is the history of the minimum wage?
Background from official sources

A minimum wage is the lowest wage that employers may legally pay to workers. The first minimum wage law was enacted in 1894 in New Zealand.

With the passage of The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), the U.S. minimum wage was initially set at $0.25 per hour for covered workers.  Since then, it has been raised 22 separate times–most recently, in July 2009, to $7.25 an hour.

What are poverty rates among working adults?
Official data by work experience

 

The Census Bureau reports poverty rates by work experience for people ages 18 to 64.  In 2014, the overall poverty rate for people ages 18 to 64 was 14%. 

Who are the working poor?
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

In 2013, 45.3 million people were poor. The majority of the people who live below the poverty level do not work. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 10.5 million or 23 percent of the poor were “working poor.” 

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

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. 

What are the characteristics of minimum wage workers?
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

In 2014, about 1.3 million U.S. workers age 16 and over earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Another 1.7 million had wages below the federal minimum.  Together these workers make up 4 percent of all hourly paid workers.

Overview

Who Is Poor? A More Detailed View

What do we know about poverty and shared households?
Estimates from the American Community Survey

 

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

What do we know about hunger and poverty?
Data from the CPS Food Security Supplement

 

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.

What do we know about poverty spells?
Research from the Center for Poverty Research and the Census Bureau

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

Despite the lack of official data, other surveys do provide the ability to track poverty status over time. Two recent studies have used differing data sources and methods to provide some insight into the characteristics of poverty spells.

Census Bureau Study

How is poverty related to access to care and preventive healthcare?
Data from the Centers for Disease Control

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

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