The official poverty rate is 12.3 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 estimates. That year, an estimated 39.7 million Americans lived in poverty according to the official measure. According to supplemental poverty measure, the poverty rate was 13.9 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, in 2016 18.5
million people lived in deep poverty. Those in deep poverty
represented 5.8 percent of the total population and 45.6 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.