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1998 HHS Poverty Guidelines

One Version of the [U.S.] Federal Poverty Measure

[Latest Poverty Guidelines]
[Prior Poverty Guidelines and Federal Register References Since 1982]
[Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)]
[Further Resources on Poverty Measurement, Poverty Lines, and Their History]


There are two slightly different versions of the federal poverty measure:

  • the poverty thresholds, and
  • the poverty guidelines.

The poverty thresholds are the original version of the federal poverty measure. They are updated each year by the Census Bureau (although they were originally developed by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration). The thresholds are used mainly for statistical purposes — for instance, preparing estimates of the number of Americans in poverty each year. (In other words, all official poverty population figures are calculated using the poverty thresholds, not the guidelines.)  Poverty thresholds since 1973 (and for selected earlier years) and weighted average poverty thresholds since 1959 are available on the Census Bureau's Web site.  For an example of how the Census Bureau applies the thresholds to a family's income to determine its poverty status, see "How the Census Bureau Measures Poverty" on the Census Bureau's web site.

The poverty guidelines are the other version of the federal poverty measure. They are issued each year in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The guidelines are a simplification of the poverty thresholds for use for administrative purposes — for instance, determining financial eligibility for certain federal programs. (The full text of the Federal Register notice with the 1998 poverty guidelines is available here.)

The poverty guidelines are sometimes loosely referred to as the "federal poverty level" (FPL), but that phrase is ambiguous and should be avoided, especially in situations (e.g., legislative or administrative) where precision is important.

Key differences between poverty thresholds and poverty guidelines are outlined in a table under Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). See also the discussion of this topic on the Institute for Research on Poverty's web site.

NOTE: The poverty guideline figures below are NOT the figures the Census Bureau uses to calculate the number of poor persons.
The figures that the Census Bureau uses are the poverty thresholds.


1998 HHS Poverty Guidelines

Size of Family Unit 48 Contiguous States and D.C. Alaska Hawaii
1 $ 8,050 $ 10,070 $ 9,260
2 10,850 13,570 12,480
3 13,650 17,070 15,700
4 16,450 20,570 18,920
5 19,250 24,070 22,140
6 22,050 27,570 25,360
7 24,850 31,070 28,580
8 27,650 34,570  31,800
For each additional person, add  2,800 3,500 3,220

SOURCE: Federal Register, Vol. 63, No. 36, February 24, 1998, pp. 9235-9238.

The separate poverty guidelines for Alaska and Hawaii reflect Office of Economic Opportunity administrative practice beginning in the 1966-1970 period.  Note that the poverty thresholds — the original version of the poverty measure — have never had separate figures for Alaska and Hawaii.

The poverty guidelines apply to both aged and non-aged units.  The guidelines have never had an aged/non-aged distinction; only the Census Bureau (statistical) poverty thresholds have separate figures for aged and non-aged one-person and two-person units.

Programs using the guidelines (or percentage multiples of the guidelines — for instance, 130 percent of the guidelines) in determining eligibility include Head Start, the Food Stamp Program, the National School Lunch Program, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Note that in general, cash public assistance programs (Aid to Families with Dependent Children and its block grant successor, and Supplemental Security Income) do NOT use the poverty guidelines in determining eligibility. The Earned Income Tax Credit program also does NOT use the poverty guidelines to determine eligibility.  For a more detailed list of programs that do and don’t use the guidelines, see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

The poverty guidelines (unlike the poverty thresholds) are designated by the year in which they are issued. For instance, the guidelines issued in February 1998 are designated the 1998 poverty guidelines. However, the 1998 HHS poverty guidelines only reflect price changes through calendar year 1997; accordingly, they are approximately equal to the Census Bureau poverty thresholds for calendar year 1997. (The 1997 thresholds will be issued in final form about September or October 1998; a preliminary version of the 1997 thresholds is now available from the Census Bureau.)