U.S. Poverty Statistics

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The American Community Survey (ACS), conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, publishes estimates each year on the population living below federal poverty level. The American Community Survey uses the federal poverty line threshold to determine poverty status for families and individuals. 

Unlike the Census—which is an exact count of people and households every ten years—ACS statistics are estimated based on a representative survey sample. The ACS reports these estimates further broken down by various characteristics, including age, sex, education, and work status. 

How is poverty defined?

In 2018, the federal poverty income threshold was $25,465 for a family of four with two children, and $17,308 for a single parent of one child. If a family's total income is less than the corresponding threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered in poverty. An individual is considered as in poverty if their income within the last 12 months was below poverty level.

Poverty is an extreme condition. The National Center for Children in Poverty reported that the level of income families typically require to make ends meet is nearly twice the federal poverty thresholds. While the poverty thresholds are adjusted each year based on inflation, they do not reflect regional differences in cost of living: the poverty thresholds are the same everywhere in the United States. The Census states: "Although the thresholds in some sense reflect a family’s needs, they are intended for use as a statistical yardstick, not as a complete description of what people and families need to live."

How many adults in the United States live in poverty?

Note: Use the time-slider beneath the charts to see data for different year estimates.

How many children in the United States live in poverty?

How does poverty status intersect school enrollment?

How educated are adults who are living below the poverty level?

Education refers to the highest level of schooling attained.

How many people in poverty worked during the past year?

What languages do people in poverty speak?

Indo-European languages include a huge swath of spoken languages, ranging from French to Farsi, along with the many languages spoken on the Indian subcontinent. (English and Spanish are also Indo-European languages, but are recorded in separate categories.)

Asian and Pacific Island languages include Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and languages spoken by indigenous people of Australia along with other Pacific cultures.

The Other language category includes Afro-Asiatic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, as well as Native American languages. 

About the Data

Data is from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS), 1-year estimates. The following tables are used:

• Total Population in Poverty: Table B17001

• Poverty by Sex and Age: Table B17001

• School Enrollment: Table B14006

• Poverty by Education: Table B17003

• Poverty by Work: Table B17004

• Language by Poverty Status and Age: Table B16009

This report uses the Census Bureau Data API but is not endorsed or certified by the Census Bureau.