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Discrimination Poverty Definition Essay

Our nation, at its best, pursues the ideal that what we look like and where we come from should not determine the benefits, burdens, or responsibilities that we bear in our society. Because we believe that all people are created equal in terms of rights, dignity, and the potential to achieve great things, we see inequality based on race, gender, and other social characteristics as not only unfortunate but unjust. The value of equality, democratic voice, physical and economic security, social mobility, a shared sense of responsibility for one another, and a chance to start over after misfortune or missteps -- what many Americans call redemption -- are the moral pillars of the American ideal of opportunity.

Many Americans of goodwill who want to reduce poverty believe that race is no longer relevant to understanding the problem, or to fashioning solutions for it. This view often reflects compassion as well as pragmatism. But we cannot solve the problem of poverty -- or, indeed, be the country that we aspire to be -- unless we honestly unravel the complex and continuing connection between poverty and race.

Since our country's inception, race-based barriers have hindered the fulfillment of our shared values and many of these barriers persist today. Experience shows, moreover, that reductions in poverty do not reliably reduce racial inequality, nor do they inevitably reach low-income people of color. Rising economic tides do not reliably lift all boats.

In 2000, after a decade of remarkable economic prosperity, the poverty rate among African Americans and Latinos taken together was still 2.6 times greater than that for white Americans. This disparity was stunning, yet it was the smallest difference in poverty rates between whites and others in more than three decades. And from 2001 to 2003, as the economy slowed, poverty rates for most communities of color increased more dramatically than they did for whites, widening the racial poverty gap. From 2004 to 2005, while the overall number of poor Americans declined by almost 1 million, to 37 million, poverty rates for most communities of color actually increased. Reductions in poverty do not inevitably close racial poverty gaps, nor do they reach all ethnic communities equally.

Poor people of color are also increasingly more likely than whites to find themselves living in high-poverty neighborhoods with limited resources and limited options. An analysis by The Opportunity Agenda and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council found that while the percentage of Americans of all races living in high-poverty neighborhoods (those with 30 percent or more residents living in poverty) declined between 1960 and 2000, the racial gap grew considerably. Low-income Latino families were three times as likely as low-income white families to live in these neighborhoods in 1960, but 5.7 times as likely in 2000. Low-income blacks were 3.8 times more likely than poor whites to live in high-poverty neighborhoods in 1960, but 7.3 times more likely in 2000.

These numbers are troubling not because living among poor people is somehow harmful in itself, but because concentrated high-poverty communities are far more likely to be cut off from quality schools, housing, health care, affordable consumer credit, and other pathways out of poverty. And African Americans and Latinos are increasingly more likely than whites to live in those communities. Today, low-income blacks are more than three times as likely as poor whites to be in "deep poverty" -- meaning below half the poverty line -- while poor Latinos are more than twice as likely.

The Persistence of Discrimination

Modern and historical forces combine to keep many communities of color disconnected from networks of economic opportunity and upward mobility. Among those forces is persistent racial discrimination that, while subtler than in past decades, continues to deny opportunity to millions of Americans. Decent employment and housing are milestones on the road out of poverty. Yet these are areas in which racial discrimination stubbornly persists. While the open hostility and "Whites Only" signs of the Jim Crow era have largely disappeared, research shows that identically qualified candidates for jobs and housing enjoy significantly different opportunities depending on their race.

In one study, researchers submitted identical résumés by mail for more than 1,300 job openings in Boston and Chicago, giving each "applicant" either a distinctively "white-sounding" or "black-sounding" name -- for instance, "Brendan Baker" versus "Jamal Jones." Résumés with white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely than those with black-sounding names to receive callbacks from employers. Similar research in California found that Asian American and, especially, Arab American résumés received the least-favorable treatment compared to other groups. In recent studies in Milwaukee and New York City, meanwhile, live "tester pairs" with comparable qualifications but of differing races tested not only the effect of race on job prospects but also the impact of an apparent criminal record. In Milwaukee, whites reporting a criminal record were more likely to receive a callback from employers than were blacks without a criminal record. In New York, Latinos and African Americans without criminal records received fewer callbacks than did similarly situated whites, and at rates comparable to whites with a criminal record.

Similar patterns hamper the access of people of color to quality housing near good schools and jobs. Research by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) shows that people of color receive less information from real-estate agents, are shown fewer units, and are frequently steered away from predominantly white neighborhoods. In addition to identifying barriers facing African Americans and Latinos, this research found significant levels of discrimination against Asian Americans, and that Native American renters may face the highest discrimination rates (up to 29 percent) of all.

This kind of discrimination is largely invisible to its victims, who do not know that they have received inaccurate information or been steered away from desirable neighborhoods and jobs. But its influence on the perpetuation of poverty is nonetheless powerful.

The Present Legacy of Past Discrimination

These modern discriminatory practices often combine with historical patterns. In New Orleans, for example, as in many other cities, low-income African Americans were intentionally concentrated in segregated, low-lying neighborhoods and public-housing developments at least into the 1960s. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck and the levees broke, black neighborhoods were most at risk of devastation. And when HUD announced that it would close habitable public-housing developments in New Orleans rather than clean and reopen them, it was African Americans who were primarily prevented from returning home and rebuilding. This and other failures to rebuild and invest have exacerbated poverty -- already at high levels -- among these New Orleanians.

In the case of Native Americans, a quarter of whom are poor, our government continues to play a more flagrant role in thwarting pathways out of poverty. Unlike other racial and ethnic groups, most Native Americans are members of sovereign tribal nations with a recognized status under our Constitution. High levels of Native American poverty derive not only from a history of wars, forced relocations, and broken treaties by the United States but also from ongoing breaches of trust -- like our government's failure to account for tens of billions of dollars that it was obligated to hold in trust for Native American individuals and families. After more than a decade of litigation, and multiple findings of governmental wrongdoing, the United States is trying to settle these cases for a tiny fraction of what it owes.

The trust-fund cases, of course, are just the latest in a string of broken promises by our government. But focusing as they do on dollars and cents, they offer an important window into the economic status that Native American communities and tribes might enjoy today if the U.S. government lived up to its legal and moral obligations.

Meanwhile, the growing diversity spurred by new immigrant communities adds to the complexity of contemporary poverty. Asian American communities, for example, are culturally, linguistically, and geographically diverse, and they span a particularly broad socioeconomic spectrum.

Census figures from 2000 show that while one-third of Asian American families have annual incomes of $75,000 or more, one-fifth have incomes of less than $25,000. While the Asian American poverty rate mirrored that of the country as a whole, Southeast Asian communities reflected far higher levels. Hmong men experienced the highest poverty level (40.3 percent) of any racial group in the nation.

Race and Public Attitudes

Americans' complex attitudes and emotions about race are crucial to understanding the public discourse about poverty and the public's will to address it. Researchers such as Martin Gilens and Herman Gray have repeatedly found that the mainstream media depict poor people as people of color -- primarily African Americans -- at rates far higher than their actual representation in the population. And that depiction, the research finds, interacts with societal biases to erode support for antipoverty programs that could reach all poor people.

Gilens found, for instance, that while blacks represented only 29 percent of poor Americans at the time he did his research, 65 percent of poor Americans shown on television news were black. In a more detailed analysis of TV newsmagazines in particular, Gilens found a generally unflattering framing of the poor, but the presentation of poor African Americans was more negative still. The most "sympathetic" subgroups of the poor -- such as the working poor and the elderly -- were underrepresented on these shows, while unemployed working-age adults were overrepresented. And those disparities were greater for African Americans than for others, creating an even more unflattering (and inaccurate) picture of the black poor.

Gray similarly found that poor African Americans were depicted as especially dysfunctional and undeserving of assistance, with an emphasis on violence, poor choices, and dependency. As Gray notes, "The black underclass appears as a menace and a source of social disorganization in news accounts of black urban crime, gang violence, drug use, teenage pregnancy, riots, homelessness, and general aimlessness. In news accounts & poor blacks (and Hispanics) signify a social menace that must be contained."

Research also shows that Americans are more likely to blame the plight of poverty on poor people themselves, and less likely to support antipoverty efforts, when they perceive that the people needing help are black. These racial effects are especially pronounced when the poor person in the story is a black single mother. In one study, more than twice the number of respondents supported individual solutions (like the one that says poor people "should get a job") over societal solutions (such as increased education or social services) when the single mother was black.

This research should not be surprising. Ronald Reagan, among others, effectively used the "racialized" mental image of the African American "welfare queen" to undermine support for antipoverty efforts. And the media face of welfare recipients has long been a black one, despite the fact that African Americans have represented a minority of the welfare population. But this research also makes clear that unpacking and disputing racial stereotypes is important to rebuilding a shared sense of responsibility for reducing poverty in all of our communities.

Removing Racial Barriers

We cannot hope to address poverty in a meaningful or lasting way without addressing race-based barriers to opportunity. The most effective solutions will take on these challenges together.

That means, for example, job-training programs that prepare low-income workers for a globalized economy, combined with antidiscrimination enforcement that ensures equal access to those programs and the jobs to which they lead. Similarly, strengthening the right to organize is important in helping low-wage workers to move out of poverty, but it must be combined with civil-rights efforts that root out the racial exclusion that has sometimes infected union locals. And it means combining comprehensive immigration reform that offers newcomers a pathway to citizenship with living wages and labor protections that root out exploitation and discourage racial hierarchy.

Another crucial step is reducing financial barriers to college by increasing the share of need-based grants over student loans and better coordinating private-sector scholarship aid -- for example, funds for federal Pell Grants should be at least double current levels. But colleges should also retain the flexibility to consider racial and socioeconomic background as two factors among many, in order to promote a diverse student body (as well as diverse workers and leaders once these students graduate). And Congress should pass the DREAM Act, which would clear the path to a college degree and legal immigration status for many undocumented students who've shown academic promise and the desire to contribute to our country.

Lack of access to affordable, quality health care is a major stress on low-income families, contributing to half of the nation's personal bankruptcies. Guaranteed health care for all is critical, and it must be combined with protections against poor quality and unequal access that, research shows, affect people of color irrespective of their insurance status.

Finally, we must begin planning for opportunity in the way we design metropolitan regions, transportation systems, housing, hospitals, and schools. That means, for example, creating incentives for mixed-income neighborhoods that are well-publicized and truly open to people of all races and backgrounds.

A particularly promising approach involves requiring an "opportunity impact statement" when public funds are to be used for development projects. The statement would explain, for example, whether a new highway will connect low-income communities to good jobs and schools, or serve only affluent communities. It would detail where and how job opportunities would flow from the project, and whether different communities would share the burden of environmental and other effects (rather than having the project reinforce traditional patterns of inequality). It would measure not only a project's expected effect on poverty but on opportunity for all.

When we think about race and poverty in terms of the shared values and linked fate of our people, our approach to politics as well as policy begins to change. Instead of balancing a list of constituencies and identity groups, our task becomes one of moving forward together as a diverse but cohesive society, addressing through unity the forces that have historically divided us. 

Who is poor?

Who is poor? | Does poverty "discriminate"? | How many children are poor? | Does poverty vary by other characteristics? | Further Information

Who is poor?

Alternative Ways to Think About
"Who is poor?"*

In addition to the official U.S. absolute income poverty measure, a wide range of other indicators of economic poverty have been proposed and implemented, such as the following:

Relative Income Poverty

Relative income measures compare the income of a family to a norm reflecting the economic position of the overall society, adjusted for price-level changes. Because overall measures of social well-being, such as median income, tend to increase over time, the poverty standard also tends to increase.

Consumption Poverty

For many households, income may temporarily dip below the poverty line because of something that happened that year, such as unemployment or a bad harvest. An alternative is to use annual family consumption rather than annual income as a more permanent indicator of resources.

"Capability" Poverty

This indicator identifies the poor as those who do not have the capability to secure a sufficient level of resources to meet a minimum standard. A capability measure of poverty focuses attention on policies that foster economic independence.

Asset Poverty

In addition to income, assets or wealth also play an important role in understanding the level and composition of poverty in the United States. Assets create opportunities, secure a standard of living, and often pass class status on to the next generation. In this sense, asset poverty comes closer in meaning and significance to traditional ideas of economic well-being and access to life chances.

Subjective Poverty

Some researchers have measured poverty by relying on the subjective responses of individuals to questions about their perceptions of economic position or well-being, relative to some norm. The effectiveness of subjective poverty measures is limited by small sample sizes and wide variation around the average, which makes it difficult to set a generally accepted poverty threshold.

*This sidebar draws from an essay by Robert Haveman, John Bascom Professor of Economics and Public Affairs Emeritus, former IRP Director, and IRP Affiliate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, "What Does It Mean to be Poor in a Rich Society?" and a related lecture (Flash Video).

In the United States, the Census Bureau determines who is poor using an economic poverty measure, by calculating official poverty estimates using a set of dollar-value thresholds, or minimum amount of income needed to meet basic needs, that vary by family size and composition. The measure is defined as three times the amount of (cash) income that a family is thought to need for a "thrifty food basket" given its size and composition.

This measure has remained mostly unchanged since it was introduced in the 1960s, other than to be annually adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index. (See FAQ #5, "What is the Consumer Price Index and how is it used?" for a description of this index.) The official poverty measure is useful for measuring long-term poverty trends. (To read more about the U.S. poverty measure, see FAQ #2, "How is poverty measured in the United States?") However, it excludes non-cash (in-kind) transfers, taxes, and tax credits. It also does not account for any categories of expenditures, nor for regional or local cost of living.

The Census Bureau releases official poverty data in an annual report, the most recent of which was released in September 2016: Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015. The report indicates that in 2015, some 43.1 million people, or 13.5 percent of the total U.S. population, lived in poverty. The findings reflect a 1.2 percentage point drop in the poverty rate (from 14.8 percent) and 3.5 million fewer people in poverty (from 46.7 million) than in 2014.

Between 2014 and 2015, poverty rates decreased for all three major age groups. The poverty rate for children under age 18 dropped 1.4 percentage points, from 21.1 percent to 19.7 percent. Rates for people aged 18 to 64 dropped 1.1 percentage points, from 13.5 percent to 12.4 percent. Poverty rates for people aged 65 and older decreased 1.1 percentage points, from 10.0 percent to 8.8 percent.

Notably, whereas the United States uses an absolute poverty measure that accounts only for cash income, there are alternative approaches to defining and measuring poverty (see Sidebar). Furthermore, some poverty experts assert that income poverty measures ignore noneconomic considerations that may affect a person's well-being, such as living in unsafe surroundings or having a chronic medical condition. This failure to consider noneconomic conditions when determining who is poor may result in policy efforts that overlook important aspects of what it means to be poor.

To produce a more refined and complex statistic than the official administrative poverty measure, the Census Bureau introduced a new measure in 2010, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which defines family, resources, and expenses differently than the official measure (e.g., counting federal program benefits such as food assistance and tax credits and subtracting work and medical out-of-pocket expenses when figuring resources). The SPM complements but does not replace the official measure, which continues to be used to determine official poverty rates and federal program eligibility.

The Census Bureau released the most recent SPM poverty statistics in September 2016: The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2015. These are shown in comparison to official poverty rates for the total population and by age group in Figure 1. All differences are statistically significant, with the SPM rate higher among the entire population, lower among children (because the SPM counts public benefits that target children most intensively), higher among working-age adults, and much higher among the elderly, whose out-of-pocket medical expenses, counted by the SPM but not the official measure, are typically much greater than those of other age groups.

Figure 1. Poverty rates using the official and SPM measures for total population and by age group, 2015, reveal lower SPM poverty for children and higher elderly SPM poverty

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement: 2015.

The following sections explore the most recent poverty estimates based on official U.S. poverty thresholds for different groups in the population, including people of color, children, women as compared to men, families, and the elderly.

Income-to-Poverty Ratios

An important consideration when identifying who is poor is that the official poverty statistics most discussed and quoted in the media indicate only how many people are living below their poverty threshold. Therefore, for example, a family living with income barely over their poverty threshold—and so by all accounts struggling financially—is not counted as "poor" in official statistics.

The Census Bureau provides another way to describe a person's economic well-being by gauging how close to or far from their poverty threshold a family's income rests using an income-to-poverty ratio. The official poverty report (see above link) includes information on income-to-poverty ratios for households living with incomes from 50 percent below to 200 percent above their threshold. See the latest income-to-poverty ratios in Table 5 of: Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015.

These ratios are useful, for example, for estimating the percentage of Americans living in deep poverty, defined as income less than half the threshold, and near poverty, defined as living with income no more than 25 percent above the threshold. According to the 2015 income-to-poverty ratios, 6.1 percent of Americans were living in deep poverty. Among children, the rate is higher: 8.9 percent of children were living under 50 percent of their family's poverty threshold.

Near poverty rates (income between 100 and 124 percent of the poverty threshold) are much higher: 17.9 percent of the overall population; 25.4 percent of children; 15.7 percent of whites; 30.1 percent of blacks; and 28.8 percent of people of Hispanic origin have income no more than 124 percent above their poverty threshold.

Does poverty "discriminate"?

The official national poverty rate represents an average over the entire population, and does not really indicate who is well-off and who is worse off. Blacks and Hispanics, for example, have poverty rates that greatly exceed the overall average. The poverty rate for all blacks and Hispanics remained near 30 percent during the 1980s and mid-1990s, while the overall poverty rate was closer to 15 percent. Thereafter the poverty rates of these two groups began to fall, though they remained high.

In 2000, the rate for blacks dropped to 22.1 percent and for Hispanics to 21.2 percent—the lowest rate for both groups since the United States began measuring poverty. Meanwhile, the overall poverty rate was about half those rates, at 11.3 percent. By 2015, however, the poverty rate for blacks had risen to 24.1 percent and for persons of Hispanic origin, who can be of any race, the poverty rate was up to 21.4 percent. The rate for the overall population was 13.5 percent.

The 2015 poverty rate for Asians was 11.4 percent, and whites not of Hispanic origin had a poverty rate of 9.1 percent. See Figure 2 for long-term changes in the U.S. poverty rate by racial or ethnic group, which reveals a striking trend among blacks, whose poverty rate decreased from 41.8 percent in 1966 to 24.1 percent in 2015. Nonetheless, the poverty rate among blacks is more than two times greater than the 11.4 percent poor rate for whites.

Figure 2: U.S. poverty rates vary significantly by race and ethnicity: 1961–2015
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements.
Note: Black poverty rate data from 1960 to 1965 are not available. The line shown connects the 1959 rate of 55.1 percent to the 1966 rate of 41.8 percent and is included to represent the trend but not to imply specific numerical data.

How many children are poor?

In 2015, children represented 23.1 percent of the overall U.S. population and 33.6 percent of the people in poverty, and some 14.5 million of them, 19.7 percent of all children in the United States, were poor. More than 4.9 million of these poor children were under 5 years old. Of the 14.5 million poor children, 6.5 million were living in deep poverty, which is defined as an annual income of less than half the poverty threshold.

As already noted, poverty rates vary considerably by race. Among children, 31.6 percent of black children and 28.9 percent of Hispanic children were in deep poverty, compared to 19.7 percent of children overall. Children of color consistently have much higher poverty rates than white children, as shown in the line graph below (as is the case in poverty rates among adults as well, as shown in Figure 2 above).

National statistics on child poverty, depicted in Figure 3 for all races and by race and Hispanic origin, are readily available but it is difficult to obtain accurate, summary data concerning child poverty at the state and local levels, and among particular groups. Therefore, non-Census Bureau-produced state estimates often draw from a number of different data sources, some official, some produced by private agencies and organizations. To increase the accuracy and reliability of estimates for small areas and groups, agencies and organizations often resort to three-year averages.

Figure 3: U.S. child poverty rates also vary a lot by race and Hispanic origin: 1959–2015
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements.

The number of respondents within each state is too small to allow for the production of official state child poverty figures based on Current Population Survey data, so the Census Bureau recommends using the American Community Survey (ACS) for state-level child poverty estimates. Since 2006, the ACS has released subnational estimates of income and poverty for all places, counties, and metropolitan areas with a population of at least 65,000, as well as for the nation and individual states.

ACS data are presented in one-year, three-year, and five-year (beginning in late 2010) estimates, which cover areas with populations over 65,000, over 20,000, and all areas, respectively. Figure 4 below shows 2015 child poverty rates for the United States as a whole and for individual states using ACS data show child poverty is highest in Mississippi at 31 percent, the only state whose rate is over 29 percent, and lowest in New Hampshire at 11 percent.

Figure 4: Child poverty rates in the U.S. overall and state by rank vary considerably: 2015
Source: Population Reference Bureau, analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Supplementary Survey, 2001 Supplementary Survey, 2002 through 2015 American Community Survey.

Another source of data on child poverty in addition to the Census Bureau is the Children's Defense Fund, which publishes "Children in the States" fact sheets on child well-being for each state. It ranks states according to indicators such as prenatal care, infant mortality, and per-pupil expenditures in public schools as well as child poverty estimates.

The Kids Count project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports many indicators of American children's health and well-being each year for the entire country and for each state, in various publications and through its online Data Center.

A Note about Poverty Data

Official national figures on poverty in the United States derive from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) to the Current Population Survey (CPS). Because the old decennial census long-form questionnaires, which asked about household income, were given to a very large sample (one of every six households), the decennial censuses through 2000 provide good, if dated, information about the percentage of children who were poor not only nationally but in geographic areas as small as census tracts (which on average contain 4,000 to 5,000 people) as well.

The American Community Survey (ACS) replaced the long form in 2006; therefore, the 2010 census did not include a long form and does not provide income and poverty estimates, for any age group. From 2006 forward, annual ACS estimates can be compared to the Census 1990 and Census 2000 estimates.

Does poverty vary by other characteristics?

Poverty Rates by Sex

In 2015, 14.8 percent of females and 12.2 percent of males were in poverty. Gender differences in poverty rates were more pronounced for the elderly, 10.3 percent of women and 7.0 percent of men were living under the poverty threshold. For women between the ages of 18 and 64, the poverty rate was 14.2 percent while the rate for men 18 to 64 was 10.5 percent. For children under age 18, there was no statistical difference between the poverty rate for girls (19.9 percent) and the rate for boys (19.5 percent). Long-term trends in poverty rates by sex, from 1966 to 2015, are shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: U.S. poverty rates are consistently higher among women as compared to men: 1966–2015

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements.

Poverty Rates by Family Type

The family poverty rate and number of families in poverty in 2015 were 10.4 percent and 8.6 million, respectively, a decline from 2014 (see Figure 6). Married-couple families also saw decreases in 2015, in both the poverty rate, 5.4 percent, and number in poverty, 3.2 million, down from 6.2 percent and 3.7 million in 2014.

The poverty rate for families headed by a single woman (with no husband present) declined, to 28.2 percent and 4.4 million in 2015. Male-householder families (with no wife present) showed no statistical change from 2014 to 2015, with 14.9 percent and 939,000 in poverty in 2015, much lower than the rate for female-headed families noted above.

Figure 6: Families headed by a single mother are by far the poorest family type, with families headed by a single father also high compared to married-couple families, but still their rates are half those of single-mother families: 2014 and 2015
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements.

Poverty Levels by Residence Area Type

As shown in Figure 7, poverty rates declined across metropolitan areas in 2015 (13.0 percent poor in 2015 versus 14.5 percent poor in 2014). Suburban areas also saw a decrease, with poverty rates down from 11.8 percent in 2014 to 10.8 percent in 2015. Rural poverty rates saw a slight uptick, to 16.7 percent in 2015 from 16.5 percent in 2014. Long-term trends show central city poverty rates rising above rural and small town rates starting in the mid-1970s.

Figure 7: U.S. poverty rates vary significantly by residence area type: 1967–2015

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements.

Poverty by Region

Poverty rates vary considerably across regions of the United States. In the South, more than 18.3 million people were living in poverty in 2015, leading to a poverty rate of 15.3 percent. The Northeast poverty rate was 12.4 percent in 2015. In the West, the poverty rate was down from 15.2 percent in 2014 to 13.3 percent in 2015; and in the Midwest, the poverty rate was down from 13.0 percent in 2014 to 11.7 percent in 2015.

In 2015, the poverty rate declined in three of the four regions, with the highest poverty rate in the South. Figure 8 shows each region's respective poverty rates over time.

Figure 8: U.S. poverty rates by region vary less than those by residence area type: 1969–2015
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements.

Further Information

U.S. Census Bureau

American FactFinder

Main Poverty Page

2015 Poverty Data Highlights
Description of Income and Poverty Data Sources
Living in Near Poverty in the United States: 1966–2012
How the Census Bureau Measures Poverty
Supplemental Poverty Measure
Expert Meeting on Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance, March 20, 2015

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Poverty Estimates, Trends, and Analysis

Summary of 2014 Current Population Survey Data [no update that I could find…]
Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2015
Financial Condition and Health Care Burdens of People in Deep Poverty

Related IRP Resources

See also FAQ #6, What are good sources of information on basic trends in poverty, welfare, and related issues?


Steven Durlauf, "Understanding Poverty and Inequality in the 21st Century," podcast, October 2016. http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/media/podcasts2016.htm

Scott Allard, "The Suburbanization of U.S. Poverty," podcast, August 2016. http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/media/podcasts2016.htm

Julia Isaacs, "How Did the Safety Net Support Kids with Unemployed Parents during the Great Recession?" podcast, January 2016. http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/media/podcasts2016.htm

Articles and Briefs:

"Which Families Are Poor and Why?" Poverty Fact Sheet No. 11 (September 2016). http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/factsheets/pdfs/FactSheet11-PoorFamilies.pdf

Helen Powling, "Wisconsin Poverty 101 Updated," Poverty Fact Sheet No. 10 (September 2016). http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/factsheets/pdfs/FactSheet10-WIPov101Updated.pdf

"Leveraging Big Data to Help Restore the American Dream," Focus 32 (1: Spring/Summer 2015).

Neil Damron, "Brain Drain: A Child's Brain on Poverty," Poverty Fact Sheet #8, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, March 2015.

Robert Haveman, "What Does It Mean to Be Poor in a Rich Society?," 2008, Robert J. Lampman Memorial Lecture (Slides | Video | Article).

Lawrence F. Katz, "Reducing Inequality: Neighborhood and School Interventions," Focus 31 (2: Fall/Winter 2014–15).

Alexandra K. Murphy and Scott W. Allard, "The Changing Geography of Poverty," Focus 32 (1: Spring/Summer 2015).

Dan Simon, "Poor and in Poor Health," Poverty Fact Sheet #3, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, November 2013.

Dan Simon, "Is the American Dream Still Attainable?" Poverty Fact Sheet #6, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, September 2014.

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