Household incomes up across the U.S., poverty rates falling, except Americans 65 and older

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The percentage of U.S. children and all Americans living in poverty declined from 2017 to 2021, according to newly released Census Bureau data.

The bureau’s latest American Community Survey, a population trends analysis that informs the spending of $675 billion in federal funds, found the poverty rate for all people decreased from 15.1% in 2012-2016 to 12.6% in 2017-2021.

The national child poverty rate fell from 21.2% to 17.0% over the same period, remaining 4.4 percentage points higher than the overall rate. The family poverty rate dropped from 11% to 8.9%.

“A family and each individual member of that family are considered in poverty if the family’s before-tax money income is less than the dollar value of its threshold,” Craig Benson, a Census Bureau survey statistician, wrote in a summary of the data. “Poverty status of people not living in families is determined by comparing an individual’s income to their poverty threshold.”

According to the survey, increases in median household incomes drove the nationwide drop in poverty. The Census Bureau applies the “poverty” label to households in which the sum of all incomes falls below the threshold defined by the Consumer Price Index, adjusted yearly for inflation and economic turbulence.

The Census Bureau found that the poverty rate for Americans 65 and older increased from 9.3% in 2012-2016 to 9.6% in 2017-2021. That suggests many seniors on fixed incomes did not benefit from household wealth increases, although Mr. Benson’s summary notes “rates varied widely across counties” from less than 1% to 47.8%.

In a regional breakdown of household income levels, the survey found that 201 counties — 41.8% of them in the Midwest — had senior poverty rates under 5% in 2017-2021. Among the 76 counties with poverty rates of at least 22% for older Americans, 73.7% were in the South.

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