U.S. poverty is determined by the federal poverty threshold. The U.S. Census Bureau calculates it each year to report how many Americans live in poverty. Thresholds vary based on household size and family makeup
The poverty threshold for a one-person household under age 65 was $14,097 for 2021.
U.S. Poverty Overview
The official poverty rate in 2020 was 11.4%, according to the U.S. Census. This means that 11.4% of Americans were living below the poverty threshold. This percentage is up from 10.5% in 2019. The poverty rate has dropped from 15.1% since 2010.
About 37.2 million Americans lived in poverty in 2020, approximately 3.3 million more than in 2019.
Consider the following statistics about poverty in the U.S.:
- Women made up over 56% of people who were in poverty in 2020, according to the September 2021 Census Bureau study.
- Of those living in poverty in 2020, 8.2% were White non-Hispanic, while 17% were Hispanic of any race, 19.5% were Black, and 8.1% were Asian.
- Only 4% of adults aged 25 or older living in poverty had college degrees, according to 2020 statistics.
- Almost 25% of adults aged 25 or older living in poverty did not graduate from high school. Another 13.2% had a high-school degree but never attended college, and 8.4% had attended college but didn't receive a degree.
- Sadly, 16.1% of those living in poverty in 2020 were under 18. Another 9% of those in poverty in 2020 were aged 65 years or older.
- Nearly 11.1% of those living in poverty were born in the United States, while 13.4% of foreign-born people were in poverty. Of those foreign-born people, 9.2% were naturalized citizens, and 17.8% were not citizens.
- Of those living in poverty who were aged 18 to 64, 1.6% worked full-time for the whole year, 11.3% worked part-time, and 28.8% did not work at least one week in the year.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the nation's welfare program. It served about 2 million people in 2020. That's just 5% of the roughly 40 million living in poverty. Only 1.6 million children received welfare, or about 17% of the approximately 11.6 million children who were in poverty.
U.S. Poverty by State
The Census provides poverty statistics by state as a two-year average. The interactive map below shows the percentage of people living in poverty in each state as of 2018 and 2019.
States With the Highest Poverty Rates
Four of the 10 states with the most poverty are in the Southeast. Here are 2019-2020 poverty rates for the nine most impoverished states and Washington D.C.:
- Mississippi: 18.4%
- Louisiana: 16.7%
- New Mexico: 15.9%
- District of Columbia: 14.6%
- South Carolina: 14.2%
- Arkansas: 14.1%
- West Virginia: 14.0%
- Alabama: 13.9%
- Kentucky: 13.8%
- North Carolina: 13.2%
States With the Lowest Poverty Rates
Several of the states with low levels of poverty are in the Northeast or are near a major East Coast city. Here is a list of the 10 states with the lowest poverty rates in 2019 and 2020.
- New Hampshire: 4.9%
- Minnesota: 7.0%
- New Jersey: 7.2%
- Utah: 7.4%
- Washington: 7.6%
- Massachusetts: 8.0%
- Idaho: 8.1%
- Maryland: 8.1%
- Wisconsin: 8.2%
- Virginia: 8.3%
Impact of Minimum Wage on Poverty Rates
The minimum wage is the lowest legal wage that companies can pay workers. The U.S. national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour as of January 2022, and it hasn't changed since 2009. One person who works 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, would earn a gross income of $15,080 per year. That is less than $1,000 above the 2021 poverty threshold of $14,097 for people under age 65.
In 2020, 1.112 million, or 1.5%, of hourly paid workers earned the federal minimum wage or less.
Six of the 10 states with the highest poverty rates use the federal minimum wage: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina. One, West Virginia, has a minimum wage of $9 or less.
By January 2022, there were 30 states plus the District of Columbia with rates above the federal level. In Massachusetts, for example, the minimum wage was increased to $14.25 per hour on January 1, 2022.
In 18 states plus D.C., the minimum wage is indexed for inflation. That means it is automatically adjusted each year for increases in prices.
A total of 26 states are increasing their minimum wages effective 2022, and 22 of them implemented their changes on January 1.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is considered a high poverty rate?
The average rate of poverty in the U.S. was 11.4% in 2020. States could use that as a benchmark to consider how their poverty rates compare. The global poverty rate is closer to 10%, but it reflects a lower income threshold ($1.90 per day, or less than $700 per year).
What age category has the highest poverty rate in the United States?
Age data within poverty statistics is limited to three categories: under 18, 18 through 64, and over 64. Of these three categories, those under 18 have the highest poverty rate (16.1%).