There were 37.9 million people living in poverty in the U.S. during 2021, which represents 11.6% of the total population, according to data published on September 13 by the U.S. Census Bureau.
By comparison, 11.4% of the population (37.2 million) faced situations of poverty in 2020.
There was a 1.4% increase to 10.3% in the poverty rate among adults 65 and older from 2020 to 2021, while the rate for those under 18 declined 0.7% to 15.3%. The rate for adults 18-64 was unchanged at 10.5%.
By contrast, the supplemental poverty measure, or SPM rate for 2021 was 7.8% (around 25.5 million) — down 1.4% from 2020. For children, the SPM poverty rate declined from 9.7% (2020) to 5.2% (2021), the lowest rate ever recorded.
The overall poverty rate of 11.6% reflects the percentage of people in the nation whose household income was less than the poverty thresholds established by the Census Bureau.
These thresholds are calculated by taking “three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963 in today’s prices.” For the contiguous U.S. in 2021, the threshold for a single person was $12,880 and for a family of four, it was $26,500.
The SPM rate factors in government assistance and considers a broader range of costs, including food, clothing, shelter and utilities, rather than only the pretax income of households compared to the poverty thresholds. Additional details on the two measures are available here.
“Social Security continued to be the most important antipoverty program in 2021, moving 26.3 million people out of SPM poverty,” the report said. “Meanwhile, refundable tax credits and stimulus payments moved 9.6 million and 8.9 million people out of SPM poverty.”
Hispanics and Blacks represented a disproportionate percentage of the total population facing situations of poverty. While Hispanics comprised 19% of the total population in 2021, they represented 28.2% of those in poverty in 2021 based on the official poverty measure. Similarly, Blacks were 13.4% of the total population and 22.6% of those living in poverty.
Analysis of the Census Bureau’s data by the Economic Policy Institute found that “government social programs kept tens of millions of people out of poverty in 2021.”
An additional 61.73 million people would have been in situations of poverty without safety net programs, including Social Security, refundable tax credits, economic impact / stimulus, child tax credits, SNAP, SSI and other programs, EPI calculated.
“The poverty reduction achieved through expanded social insurance programs highlights how much policymakers’ choices can impact poverty,” the EPI analysis stated. Looking forward, policymakers must continue to prioritize poverty reduction and make these high-impact social insurance programs permanent rather than temporary. The U.S. has long lagged behind its international peers in spending on anti-poverty, social welfare, and family benefits, choosing to accept high levels of poverty as the status quo.”