Frequently Asked Questions


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.

What is the current poverty rate in the United States?
Current estimates on poverty in the U.S.

The official poverty rate is 11.6 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates for 2021. That year, an estimated 37.9 million Americans lived in poverty according to the official measure. Neither the rate nor the number differed significantly from 2020. According to the supplemental poverty measure, the poverty rate was 7.8 percent.

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.


What are the poverty thresholds today?
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.

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, 20.03 million people lived in deep poverty in 2021. Those in deep poverty represented 6.2 percent of the total population and 48.4 percent of those in poverty. 

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.


What are the annual earnings for a full-time minimum wage worker?
Minimum wage basic calculations and its impact on poverty

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 full-time annual earnings at the current minimum wage

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.

FSLA provided a number of federal protections for the first time including

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 in America?
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The “working poor” are people who spend 27 weeks or more in a year in the labor force either working or looking for work but whose incomes fall below the poverty level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 9.5 million of people who spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force were poor. That year, the working poor comprised 6.3 percent of all individuals in the labor force.

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.

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

In 2015, the poverty rates among racial and ethnic groups in the United States ranged from 10 percent to 26 percent. 

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%.


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%.


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 family structure relate to poverty?
Official data breakdown


In 2014, the overall poverty rate was 15%.  Approximately 12% of all families in the United States were in poverty.  Poverty rates by type of family ranged from 6% to 31%.


Who Is Poor? A More Detailed View

How does geography relate to poverty?
Data for regional and concentrated poverty

In 2015, poverty rates across the four Census geographic regions ranged from 11.7 percent in the Midwest, 12.4 percent in the Northeast, 13.3 percent in the West and 15.3 percent in the South. Because of the South’s largest share of the total U.S. population, it has the largest number of people who live in poverty compared to any other region.

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.

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.