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.
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.
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
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.
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.