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    Poverty: Here’s how many Americans are struggling to get by
    • December 20, 2023

    Poverty in the U.S.

    The number of Americans struggling to get by has increased in the past few years.

    The U.S. Census Bureau produces annual poverty estimates to measure the economic well-being of households, families and individuals.

    The report offers the official poverty measure and the supplemental poverty measure. The official figure, produced since the 1960s, defines poverty by comparing pretax income to a national threshold adjusted by family composition. This is used to determine eligibility for several government programs and has been used as a benchmark of economic well-being since its adoption.

    The official poverty rate in 2022 was 11.5%, applying to 37.9 million people.

    All comparative statements have undergone statistical testing and are statistically significant at the 90% confidence level unless otherwise noted.

    • The official poverty rate for African Americans decreased from 2021 to 2022. The 2022 rate was the lowest on record.

    • Official poverty rates increased from 2021 to 2022 for the White and non-Hispanic White populations. Poverty rates were not statistically different for the Asian, American Indian and Alaska Native, two or more races, or Hispanic (any race) populations.

    The USDA Economic Research Service Poverty Area Measures identify counties and census tracts with high (20% or more) and extreme (40% or more) poverty rates over various periods from 1960 to 2021. This information is used to derive persistent and enduring poverty area measures for the same levels of geography.

    In 1960, 78% — or 2,412 of all counties for which poverty status was determined (3,110 out of a total of 3,142) — had poverty rates of 20% or more. Among them, 680 (28%) continued to have high poverty through 1980.

    High-poverty counties over time

    These first five maps show the number of consecutive decades counties have had high poverty from 1960 to about 2019 (using five-year estimates for 2015–19).

    Most recent figures

    Differences in poverty rates by state using the official and supplemental poverty measures: three-year average 2020 to 2022.

    California’s poverty rate climbed in the first quarter of this year, the latest quarter measured by the Public Policy Institute of California. Poverty increased from 11.7% in 2021 to 13.2%, the institute said, with 5 million people struggling.

    Higher rates may occur for many reasons. Housing costs, as well as different mixes of housing tenure, may result in higher thresholds.

    Higher nondiscretionary expenses, such as taxes or medical expenses, may also drive rates higher.

    Sources: Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Public Policy Institute of California

    ​ Orange County Register