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Contact:  Robert Bernstein
Public Information Office
301-763-3030/763-3762 (fax)


Census Bureau Survey Shows Poverty is Primarily a Temporary Condition

     Poverty is not necessarily a permanent condition, according to a report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. While 29 percent of the nation's population was in poverty for at least two months between the start of 2004 and the end of 2006, only 3 percent were poor during the entire period.

    The report, Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Poverty, 2004-2006>, traces a sample of U.S. residents over the aforementioned 36-month period and examines how many of them were poor during at least some portion of that time and how long their poverty spells lasted. It also looks at how many fell into poverty, how many climbed out of it and how many stayed poor during the period. The data are presented by various demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.

    The data were collected by the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) between February 2004 and May 2007 from a representative sample of U.S. households who were interviewed every four months during the period. These estimates should not be confused with the official poverty estimates, which are based on the Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement. The CPS captures a snapshot of well-being at a single point in time. See https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/income_wealth/cb10-144.html. Limited data from more recent SIPP interviews are available. Tables on the Census Bureau website (https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/publications/dynamics04/tables.html) and in the appendix of the report provide some estimates for 2007 and 2009.

    According to the report, poverty can be a persistent condition: among the 33 million people who were poor at the start of the period — January and February 2004 — 23 percent remained poor throughout the next 34 months.

    However, many people did escape poverty: 12 million, or 42 percent, who were poor in the 2004 calendar year were not in poverty in 2006.

    As some moved out of poverty, others moved into it. About 10 million who were not in poverty (4 percent) in 2004 slipped into poverty by 2006.

    Other highlights include:

  • For those who were in poverty for two or more consecutive months from 2004 to 2006, the median length of a poverty spell was 4.5 months. Almost half of such spells ended within four months while about 12 percent lasted more than 24 months.
  • More than half of those who did exit poverty continued to have income that was not significantly above the poverty level (less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold).
  • Children younger than 18 tended to stay poor longer than working-age adults (ages 18-64): the median length of their poverty spells was 5.2 months, while for those 18 to 64, the median was 4.2 months. Older adults (65 and older) had the longest stays in poverty of any age group: a median spell of 6.7 months.
  • People in female-led families had longer median poverty spells than those in married-couple families.
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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | PIO@census.gov | Last Revised: May 19, 2016