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.
In 2020, the poverty threshold for a one-person household under age 65 was $13,465. The thresholds vary based on household size and family makeup.
U.S. Poverty Overview
According to the U.S. Census, the official poverty rate in 2019 was 10.5%, meaning 10.5% of Americans were living below the poverty threshold. This percentage is down from 11.8% in 2018. Since 2010, the poverty rate has dropped from 15.1%.
In 2019, about 34 million Americans lived in poverty, approximately 4.2 million fewer than in 2018.
Consider the following statistics about poverty in the U.S.:
- Women made up nearly 56% of people who were in poverty in 2019.
- Of those living in poverty, 41.8% were White non-Hispanic, while 27.9% were Hispanic of any race, 23.5% were Black, and 4.4% were Asian.
- Only 16.8% of adults aged 25 or older living in poverty had college degrees.
- Almost 25% of adults aged 25 or older living in poverty did not graduate from high school. Another 36% had a high school degree but never attended college. More than 22.8% had attended college but didn't receive a degree.
- Sadly, 26.3% of those living in poverty were under 18—that's more than 10 million children in poverty. Another 12.3% of those in poverty were aged 65 years or older.
- Nearly 71% of those living in poverty were born in the United States, while 14% of foreign-born people were in poverty. Of those foreign-born people, 5% were naturalized citizens and 9% were not citizens.
- Of those living in poverty who were aged 18 to 64, 12.3% worked full-time for the whole year, 26.7% worked part-time, and 60.4% did not work at least one week in the year.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the nation's welfare program. In 2019, it served about 2 million people. That's just 5% of the roughly 40 million living in poverty. Only 1.6 million children received welfare in 2019, or about 15% of the approximately 10.5 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
Five of the 10 states with the most poverty are in the Southeast. Here are 2018–2019 poverty rates for the 10 most impoverished states, including Washington D.C.:
- Mississippi: 19.4%
- Louisiana: 18.4%
- New Mexico: 16.0%
- Arkansas: 15.0%
- West Virginia: 14.9%
- Kentucky: 14.6%
- Alabama: 14.4%
- South Carolina: 13.9%
- District of Columbia: 13.6%
- Georgia: 13.5%
States With the Lowest Poverty Rates
Several of the states with low levels of poverty are in the Northeast or are near a major U.S. East Coast city. Here is a list of the 10 states with the lowest poverty rates in 2018–2019.
- New Hampshire: 4.9%
- Minnesota: 6.8%
- Delaware: 6.9%
- Utah: 7.1%
- New Jersey: 7.3%
- Maryland: 7.5%
- Washington: 7.8%
- Massachusetts: 8.1%
- Kansas and Wisconsin: 8.5%
Impact of Minimum Wage on Poverty Rates
The minimum wage is the lowest legal wage companies can pay workers. The U.S. current national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which has not changed since 2009. One person working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, would earn a gross income of $15,080 a year. This is less than $2,000 above the the 2019 poverty threshold of $13,465 for people under 65.
In 2019, 1.6 million, or 1.9%, 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 and two have a minimum wage of $9 or less.
By January 2021, there were 29 states plus the District of Columbia with rates above the federal level. In Massachusetts, for example, the minimum wage was increased to $13.00 per hour on January 1, 2021.
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.