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Poverty in the United States: A Snapshot

 

Census figures released in September 2013 confirm that record-high numbers of Americans are living in poverty. The latest data reveal:

One out of seven people in the USA are living in poverty.

In 2012, 46.5 million people were living in poverty in the United States—the largest number in the 54 years the Census has measured poverty.

The poverty rate (the percentage of all people in the United States who were poor) also remained at high levels: 15% for all Americans and 21.8% for children under age 18.

The United States Bureau of the Census measures poverty by comparing household income to the poverty threshold for a household of a given size. The poverty threshold is adjusted each year to take account of changes in the cost-of-living. The poverty threshold is not, however, representative of what a family actually needs for a decent living. For example, in 2012, the weighted average poverty threshold for a household of four was only $23,492.

Almost one out of sixteen people in the USA are living in deep poverty.

People with income 50% below the poverty line are commonly referred to as living in deep poverty; Census figures show that, in 2012, 6.6% of our population, or 20.4 million people, were living in deep poverty.

Racial and ethnic minorities, women, children, and families headed by single women are particularly vulnerable to poverty and deep poverty.

  • Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to be poor, and to be in poverty and deep poverty.

Census figures reveal a stark contrast in the percentages of non-Hispanic whites living in poverty as compared to Hispanics and blacks. In 2012, 9.7% of non-Hispanic whites (18.9 million) were living in poverty, while over a quarter of Hispanics (13.6 million), and 27.2% of blacks (10.9 million) were living in poverty.

The figures are more dismal when looking at the rates for deep poverty. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics are more than twice as likely to live in deep poverty, and blacks are almost three times more likely to live in deep poverty. In 2012, 12.7% of blacks (almost 5.1 million), 10.1% of Hispanics (almost 5.4 million), and 4.3% (8.4 million) of non-Hispanic whites were living in deep poverty.

  • Children represent more than one-third of the people living in poverty and deep poverty.

In 2012, 73.7 million American children represented 23.7% of the total U.S. population, but made up a disquieting 34.6% of Americans in poverty and a full 35% of Americans living in deep poverty.

Overall, 21.8% of children under 18—or some 16.1 million American youth—were living below the poverty line. Though the poverty rate of 9.1% for Americans aged 65 and older remained steady since 2011, the number of older Americans in poverty increased from 3.6 million to 3.9 million. For citizens aged 18 to 64, 13.7%—26.5 million—lived in poverty.

  • Poverty is a women's issue; female-headed families are more likely to be poor.

In 2012, over five million more women than men were living below the poverty line; and two million more women than men were living in deep poverty. For women aged 18 to 64, the poverty rate was 15.4%, compared to 11.9% for men of the same age range. At 11%, the poverty rate for women aged 65 and older is almost double that of men aged 65 and older—6.6%.

Families headed by a single adult are more likely to be headed by women, and these female-headed households are at a greater risk of poverty. Almost 31% of households headed by a single woman were living below the poverty line—nearly five times the 6.3% poverty rate for families headed by a married couple. For households headed by a single male, 16.4% were living in poverty.

  • Over one-fourth of adults with a disability live in poverty.

In 2012, the poverty rate for Americans aged 18 to 64 living with a disability was 28.4% (4.3 million) compared to 12.5% (22 million) of Americans aged 18 to 64 who did not have disability.


Data from U. S. Census Bureau and other published reports.