People and families are considered poor when they lack the economic resources necessary to experience a minimal living standard. Official U.S. Census Bureau statistics estimate that 40 million persons, 12.3 percent of the total population, were poor in the United States in 2017. The topic of poverty is widely considered a cause for national action because poor families often encounter material hardships and reduced well-being and because children who grow up in poor households are less likely to thrive as adults.
ASPE contributes to the federal government’s efforts to reduce poverty in the United States in several ways. One way is to conduct research on the social and economic conditions that lead to poverty and to identify ways in which poor families can improve their circumstances and exit poverty. Some research is conducted by ASPE and some is performed by the ASPE-funded poverty research center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Analyses by Topic
Poverty Research Centers
Annual Poverty Forum
This report provides welfare dependence indicators through 2016 for most indicators and through 2017 for some indicators, reflecting changes that have taken place since enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996.
The annual recipiency rate reflects the percentage of the total population who received or lived with a family member who received a cash benefit from TANF, SNAP, and/or SSI any time during the year. In 2017, the annual recipiency rate was 20.9 percent, an annual decrease of 1.1 percentage points compared with 2016.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the slowdown in economic activity have impacted the well-being of many U.S. families.
The Welfare Indicators Act of 1994 requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to prepare an annual report to Congress on indicators welfare dependence. The Indicators of Welfare Dependence report is prepared by ASPE’s Office of Human Services Policy. As mandated under the Congressional act, the report addresses the rate of welfare dependence, the degree and duration of welfare recipiency and dependence, and predictors of welfare dependence.
Americans living at the bottom of the income distribution often struggle to meet their basic needs on very limited incomes, even with the added assistance of government programs. The following analyses describe the characteristics of the poor population; available income for those at the deepest levels of poverty; and average medical care needs among those living in poor and deep poor families (meaning those with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty threshold)2. The brief concludes with implications for medical cost sharing among those with few resources available.
Information on the Supplemental Poverty Measure - A Summary of 2013 Current Population Survey Data (October 2014)
The brief summarizes findings from the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure report for 2013. The brief highlights SPM levels for the most recent year, changes from the previous year and historical trends. SPM estimates are compared to estimates of the official poverty measure. The brief also presents the anti-poverty effects of select social safety net programs and includes technical details on the calculation of the SPM.
This brief analyzes and summarizes the poverty rates for various populations in the United States. Cited statistics include changes in the poverty rate and number of children in poverty by age, race and ethnicity, and family type. The data are based on information collected in the 2014 and earlier Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements (CPS ASEC) conducted by the Census Bureau.
The brief describes the characteristics of pockets of concentrated poverty within metropolitan areas and the individuals that live in these communities. Topics covered include race and ethnicity, family type, birth rates, and educational attainment. The figures presented are based on ASPE's analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's 2007-2011 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year data file.
The Welfare Indicators Act of 1994 requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to prepare an annual report to Congress on indicators of welfare dependence. The Indicators of Welfare Dependence report is prepared by ASPE’s Office of Human Services Policy. As mandated under the Congressional act, the report addresses the rate of welfare dependence, the degree and duration of welfare recipiency and dependence, and predictors of welfare dependence. Analyses of meant-tested assistance in the report include benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The report also includes risk factors related to economic security, employment, and nonmarital births, as well as an appendix with data related to the above programs. Data for most indicators are updated through 2011.
This research brief examines child poverty in 2010 using both the official poverty measure that the Census Bureau has been using since the 1960’s and the more recent Research Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). It examines three groups of children – the “core” poor who live in families who are poor regardless of which measure is used, the “lifted out” children who are classified as poor under the official measure but are no longer poor under the supplemental poverty measure, and children who are not poor under the official measure but who are “thrown in” to poverty under the new SPM measure. The brief identifies the core characteristics of each group of poor children and demonstrates what each measure independently contributes to our understanding of child poverty.