A few days ago we looked at an introduction to the history of how the U.S. measures its own poverty in Poverty: The [U.S.] History of a Measure. Today, we'll be taking a brief look at how we actually measure poverty in the United States. To get the complete history of the measures and how they were developed you will have to read The Development of the Orshansky Poverty Thresholds and Their Subsequent History as The Official U.S. Poverty Measure. You might find evidence that our ideas of what it means to live in poverty rest largely on our collective cultural understanding of acceptable standards-of-living (i.e., what do we think we need to survive and live quality lives vs. what we actually need to survive and live quality lives). This may be one of the reasons we distinguish between poverty and "extreme poverty" globally, and why Americans generally do a bad job of perceiving whether someone lives in poverty while we take our luxurious vacations to other countries. Based on our standards, everyone outside of the Western world appears to live in poverty.
According to current statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau:
- In 2012, the official poverty rate was 15.0 percent. There were 46.5 million people in poverty.
- For the second consecutive year, neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty at the national level were statistically different from the previous year’s estimates.
- The 2012 poverty rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession.
- In 2012, the poverty rate for people living in the West was statistically lower than the 2011 estimate.
- For most groups, the number of people in poverty did not show a statistically significant change. However, between 2011 and 2012, the number of people in poverty did increase for people aged 65 and older, people living in the South, and people living outside metropolitan statistical areas.
- The poverty rate in 2012 for children under age 18 was 21.8 percent. The poverty rate for people aged 18 to 64 was 13.7 percent, while the rate for people aged 65 and older was 9.1 percent. None of these poverty rates were statistically different from their 2011 estimates.1
The following infographic demonstrates how the U.S. measures its own poverty:
Did you notice that, after an initial decrease in poverty from 22.4% in 1959 to around 15% in 1965, our poverty rate has fluctuated between 11-15% ever since? Did you notice that children experience the highest rates of poverty? Are government programs the only thing keeping people out of poverty in the U.S.? Do you wonder how we compare to the rest of the world? To look more closely and answer these questions we will need to look at some more ways people and organizations fight and measure global poverty, inside and outside the United States. Next time...