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Measures of Poverty
Poverty Thresholds and Guidelines

 

There are two official measures of poverty issued annually by the federal government:

  • Census Bureau poverty thresholds
  • Department of Health and Human Services poverty guidelines
Poverty Thresholds

Both of the official poverty measures are intended to identify the level of income necessary to meet basic needs.

Image of Measures of Poverty The Census Bureau’s poverty thresholds are intended for use as a statistical yardstick.  The Bureau calculates official poverty thresholds that vary by family size and composition (family members’ age) using money income before taxes not including capital gains or noncash benefits (such as public housing, Medicaid, and food stamps).

If a family’s total income is less than the family’s threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered in poverty. The official poverty thresholds are updated annually for inflation using Consumer Price Index (CPI-U).

Frequency and Timespan: Annual data for 1959 to the present

Geographic level of coverage: National; some regional data

Tables available online

Source:
U.S. Census Bureau. How the Census Bureau Measures Poverty.  (PDF)   Accessed 2/13/2012

 

Poverty Guidelines

Image of Measures of Poverty The poverty guidelines are issued annually by the Department of Health and Human Services.  They are a simplification of the official poverty thresholds calculated by the Census Bureau and are intended for administrative purposes, primarily determining financial eligibility for certain federal assistance programs.

Frequency and Timespan: Annual data, from 1959 to the present

Geographic level of coverage: one set of guidelines for the the 48 contiguous states; separate guidelines for Alaska, and Hawaii

Publications and Tables are available online

Source:
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.  Frequently Asked Questions Related to Poverty Guidelines and Poverty. (PDF ) Accessed 2/13/2012

FAQ

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

Image of 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 and are updated annually.

FAQ

What are the poverty thresholds today?
from the Census Bureau

Image of What are the poverty thresholds today?

 

The most recent thresholds issued by the Census Bureau are for 2013.

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Official Poverty Statistics
from the Current Population Survey

Image of Official Poverty Statistics

 

The official poverty statistics, which have been in use since the 1960s, calculate poverty status by comparing a family’s or an individual’s cash income to their poverty threshold. 

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