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Poverty in the United States: 2021

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Report Number P60-277


This report presents poverty estimates using two measures, the official poverty measure and the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The official poverty measure, in use since the 1960s, defines poverty by comparing pretax money income to a poverty threshold that is adjusted by family composition. The SPM, first released in 2011 and produced with support from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), extends the official poverty measure by taking account of many government programs that are designed to assist low-income families but are not included in the official poverty measure. The SPM also includes federal and state taxes and work and medical expenses. In addition, the SPM accounts for geographic variation in poverty thresholds, while the official poverty measure does not.

This report presents estimates using the official poverty measure and the SPM for calendar year 2021, marking the first time both poverty measures have been integrated into a single report. The estimates contained in the report are based on information collected in the 2022 and earlier Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements (CPS ASEC) conducted by the Census Bureau. Estimates for 2020 in this report will not match those published last year due to the implementation of the 2020 Census-based population controls.


Official Poverty Measure

  • The official poverty rate in 2021 was 11.6 percent, with 37.9 mil­lion people in poverty. Neither the rate nor the number in pov­erty was significantly different from 2020 (Figure 1 and Table A-1).
  • Official poverty rates decreased for people under the age of 18 and increased for people 65 years and older, but were not statistically different for 18- to 64-year-olds (Figure 2 and Table A-1).
  • The majority of the demo­graphic groups discussed in this report did not experience sig­nificant changes in their poverty rates between 2020 and 2021 (Figure 2 and Tables A-1 and A-2).

Supplemental Poverty Measure

  • The SPM rate in 2021 was 7.8 percent, a decrease of 1.4 percentage points from 2020. This is the lowest SPM poverty rate since estimates were first published and the third con­secutive decline (Figure 4 and Table B-2).
  • The SPM child poverty rate fell 46 percent in 2021, from 9.7 percent in 2020 to 5.2 percent in 2021, a 4.5 percentage-point decline. This is the lowest SPM child poverty rate on record. In 2021, SPM rates for non-Hispanic White (2.7 percent), Black (8.1 percent), and Hispanic (8.4 percent) children were also the lowest rates on record, falling from 2020. (Figure 8 and Table B-2).
  • SPM rates decreased for 18- to 64-year-olds, while increasing for people 65 years and older (Figure 5 and Table B-3).
  • Social Security continued to be the most important antipoverty program in 2021, moving 26.3 million people out of SPM pov­erty. Meanwhile, refundable tax credits and stimulus payments moved 9.6 million and 8.9 mil­lion people out of SPM poverty (Figure 11 and Table B-8).

Differences in Poverty Measures

  • The share of the population with resources below 50 percent of their poverty threshold was lower for the SPM than for the official poverty measure with a consistent universe. In particu­lar, 1.4 percent of children had SPM resources below half their SPM poverty threshold, com­pared to 7.2 percent using the official poverty methodology (Figure 10 and Table B-6).
  • SPM rates were higher than the official poverty measure with a consistent universe in 3 states, lower in 38 states, and not sta­tistically different in 9 states and the District of Columbia (Figure 9 and Table B-5).



Source Information

For information on confidentiality protection, sampling error, nonsampling error, and definitions, see https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/techdocs/cpsmar22.pdf [PDF - <1.0 MB]. 

The Census Bureau has reviewed this data product to ensure appropriate access, use, and disclosure avoidance protection of the confidential source data used to produce this product. Data Management System (DMS) number: D-0000010797, Disclosure Review Board (DRB) approval number: CBDRB-FY22-358.

Page Last Revised - September 13, 2022
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