Official Poverty Statistics
from the Current Population Survey


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. 

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 Census Bureau produces annual reports providing numbers and rates of people in poverty with select breakdown by demographic and socio-economic characteristics.

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

Geographic Level of Coverage: National with some regional breakdowns

Publications and Tables are available online

DeNavas-Walt, Carmen and Bernadette D. Proctor, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014 U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Reports P60-252, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2015 (PDF)  Accessed 9/16/2014

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

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.

Research Supplemental Poverty Measure
An Alternative Measure of Poverty


In 2011, the Census Bureau issued a paper that laid groundwork for developing a new Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) for the United States. 

This paper illustrate differences between the official measure of poverty and a poverty measure that takes account of in-kind benefits received by families and nondiscretionary expenses that they must pay.