The first group includes eight measures associated with economic security. This group encompasses five measures of poverty, as well as measures of child support receipt, food insecurity, and lack of health insurance. The tables and figures illustrating measures of economic security are labeled with the prefix ECON throughout this chapter.
Poverty measures are important predictors of dependence, because families with fewer economic resources are more likely to be dependent on means-tested assistance. In addition, poverty and other measures of deprivation, such as food insecurity, are important to assess in conjunction with the measures of dependence outlined in Chapter II.
Reductions in caseloads and dependence can reduce poverty, to the extent that such reductions are associated with greater work activity and higher economic resources for former welfare families. However, if former welfare families are left with fewer economic resources, reductions in welfare caseloads may not lead to decreases in poverty.
Several aspects of poverty are examined in this chapter. Those that can be updated annually using the Current Population Survey include: overall poverty rates (ECON 1); the percentage of individuals in deep poverty (ECON 2), and poverty rates using alternative definitions of income (ECON 3 and 4). The chapter also includes data on the length of poverty episodes or spells (ECON 5).
This chapter also includes data on child support collections (ECON 6), which can play an important role in reducing dependence on government assistance and thus serve as a predictor of dependence. Household food insecurity (ECON 7) is an important measure of deprivation that, although correlated with general income poverty, provides an alternative measure of tracking the incidence of material hardship and need, and how it may change over time. Finally, health insurance (ECON 8) is tied to the income level of the family, and may be a precursor to future health problems among adults and children.
Economic Security Risk Factor 1. Poverty Rates
Figure ECON 1. Percentage of Persons in Poverty, by Age: 1959-2005
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005,” Current Population
Reports, Series P60-231, and data published online at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty.html.
- The official poverty rate was 12.6 percent in 2005. The percentage of persons living in poverty in 2005 was below the poverty rates experienced during all of the 1980s and most of the 1990s.
- Children under 18 had a poverty rate of 17.6 percent in 2005, down slightly from 17.8 percent in 2004. As in past years, the child poverty rate is considerably higher than the overall poverty rate.
- The poverty rate for the elderly (persons ages 65 and over) was 10.1 percent in 2005, up slightly from 9.8 in 2004. This was a percentage point below the 11.1 percent rate for adults ages 18-64 and far lower than poverty rate of children, as shown in table ECON 1.
Table ECON 1. Percentage of Persons in Poverty, by Age and Marital Status: Selected Years
Economic Security Risk Factor 2. Deep Poverty Rates
Figure ECON 2. Percentage of Total Population below 50, 100 and 125 Percent of Poverty Level 1975-2005
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005,” Current Population Reports, Series P60-231, and data published online at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty.html.
- The percentage of the population in “deep poverty” (with incomes below 50 percent of the federal poverty level) was 5.4 percent in 2005, compared to an overall poverty rate of 12.6 percent. Only about 4 percent of the population was “near-poor” (had incomes at or above 100 percent but below 125 percent of the federal poverty level).
- In general, the percentage of the population with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty threshold has followed a pattern that reflects the trend in the overall poverty rate, as shown in Figure ECON 2. The percentage of people below 50 percent of poverty rose in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but then, after falling slightly, rose to a second peak in 1993. The rates for 100 percent of poverty and 125 percent of poverty followed a somewhat similar pattern with more pronounced peaks and valleys.
- Over the past two decades, the proportion of the poverty population in “deep poverty” has increased. From a low of 28 percent of the poverty population in 1976, this population rose to just over 43 percent in 2005 up slightly from 2004.
- The total number of poor people in 2005 was 37 million, as shown in Table ECON 2. While similar to the previous year, this number was 2.3 million lower than the peak of 39.3 million in 1993.
Table ECON 2. Number and Percentage of Total Population below 50, 75, 100 and 125 Percent of Poverty Level: Selected Years
Economic Security Risk Factor 3. Experimental Poverty Measures
Figure ECON 3. Percentage of Persons in Poverty Using Various Experimental Poverty Measures by Age: 2004
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, “The Effects of Government Taxes and Transfers on Income and Poverty: 2004,”, available online at http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/income_wealth/..., and unpublished CPS data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
- Three experimental measures of poverty (developed by the Census Bureau in response to the recommendation of a 1995 panel of the National Academy of Sciences) yield poverty rates that are similar to the official poverty measure overall, but differ by age and other characteristics. For more information on the definition of these measures see note for Table ECON 3a.
- Experimental measures generally show lower poverty rates among children than the official measure, partly because they take into account non-cash benefits that many children receive. Conversely, experimental measures show higher rates of poverty among the elderly than the official measure, in part due to the inclusion of certain out-of-pocket health costs in these measures.
- All three alternative measures shown in Figure Econ 3 do not take into account geographic adjustments (NGA) in housing costs; the measures can be calculated with geographic adjustment (GA), as shown in Tables ECON 3a and 3b. See note to Table ECON 3a.
Table ECON 3a. Percentage of Persons in Poverty Using Various Experimental Poverty Measures, by Race/Ethnicity and Age: 2004
Table ECON 3b. Percentage of Persons in Poverty Using Various Experimental Poverty Measures 1999-2004
Economic Security Risk Factor 4. Poverty Rates with Various Means-tested Benefits Included
Figure ECON 4. Percentage of Total Population in Poverty with Various Means-Tested Benefits Added to Total Cash Income: 1979-2005
Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 1980-2006,
analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office.
- The official poverty rate – the definition of which includes means-tested cash assistance (primarily TANF and SSI) in addition to pre-tax cash income and social insurance – was 12.6 percent in 2005, as shown in the bold line with empty boxes in Figure ECON 4. Without cash welfare, the 2005 poverty rate would be 13.3 percent, as shown by the top line in the figure above.
- Adding other non-cash, public assistance benefits to this definition has the effect of lowering the percentage of people who have incomes below the official poverty line. Including the value of food and housing benefits in total income reduces the poverty rate to 11.2 percent in 2005.
- When income is defined as including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and federal taxes, the percentage of the total population in poverty decreases to 10.3 percent in 2005. Federal taxes and tax credits have had a net effect of reducing poverty rates following the EITC expansions in 1993 and 1995.
- The combined effect of means-tested cash assistance, food and housing benefits, EITC and taxes was to reduce the poverty rate in 2005 by 3.0 percentage points, as shown in Table ECON 4. Net reductions in poverty rates were somewhat lower during the recession of the early 1980s, and somewhat higher in the mid-1990s, largely due to expansions in the EITC.
Table ECON 4. Percentage of Total Population in Poverty with Various Means-Tested Benefits Added to Total Cash Income: Selected Years (DATA EMBARGOED)
Economic Security Risk Factor 5. Poverty Spells
Figure ECON 5. Percentage of Poverty Spells for Individuals Entering Poverty during the 1993-1995 and 2001-2003 Periods, by Length of Spell
Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, 1993 and 2001 panels.
- About half of all poverty spells that began between 2001 and 2003 ended within four months, and 77 percent ended within one year. Only 15 percent of all such spells were longer than 20 months, as shown in Table ECON 5a.
- Spells of poverty that began between 1993 and 1995 were similar to those between 2001 and 2003; 47 percent ended within four months and 16 percent were longer than 20 months.
- Poverty spells among adults ages 65 and older were more likely to last longer than 20 months (21 percent) than spells among other age groups, as shown in Table ECON 5a.
Table ECON 5a. Percentage of Poverty Spells for Individuals Entering Poverty during the 2001-2003 Period, by Length of Spell, Race/Ethnicity and Age
Table ECON 5b. Percentage of Poverty Spells for Individuals Entering Poverty during the Selected Time Periods, by Length of Spell and Panel
Economic Security Risk Factor 6. Child SUPPORT
Figure ECON 6. Child Support Collections Received by Families, by Receipt of IV-D Services and Other Assistance (Billions of 2003 Dollars): 1993-2003
Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Current Population Survey, Child Support Supplement, 1994-2004.
- In 2003 families reported receiving $25.6 billion in child support payments from nonresident parents. This amount represents current year support received for a twelvemonth period and does not include amounts paid for prior periods (arrearages) or amounts retained by the federal and state government to recoup welfare costs. Total child support collections have increased by 24 percent since 1993, after adjusting for inflation.
- The amount of payments received by families who also received AFDC/TANF cash assistance at some point in the year has declined, from $3.1 billion in 1993 (in inflationadjusted dollars) to $2.6 billion in 2003. This partly reflects the decline in the AFDC/TANF caseloads. In addition, some states no longer “pass-through” any payments to families receiving TANF. Prior to the enactment of PRWORA in 1996, states were required to pass-through the first $50 of any child support collected.
- Child support payments to families who did not receive TANF, but received another form of public assistance (SSI, food stamps, Medicaid or housing assistance) increased significantly between 1993 and 2003, from $2.1 to $5.3 billion (in 2003 dollars). This group of families includes former TANF recipients, as well as families at risk of turning to cash assistance. The increased collections for this group more than offset the decline in payments to TANF families.
- The total amount reported received by families through the child support enforcement system (Title IV-D of the Social Security Act) was $16.2 billion, or 63 percent of all child support payments received by families, as shown in Table ECON 6.
Economic Security Risk Factor 7. Food Insecurity
Figure ECON 7. Percentage of Households Classified by Food Security Status: 2005
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Household Food Security in the United States, 2005.
- Many American households (89 percent) were food secure in 2005 – that is, showed little or no evidence of concern about food supply or reduction in food intake.
- The prevalence of very low food security in 2005 was estimated to be 3.9 percent. During the twelve months ending in December 2005, one or more members of these households experienced reduced food intake and normal eating patterns disrupted as a result of financial constraints. An additional 7 percent of households experienced food insecurity, during the twelve months ending in December 2004. Food insecurity would be lower if measured over a monthly basis.
- Poor households and female-headed households have higher rates of very low food security (13.5 and 8.7 percent, respectively) than the 3.9 percent rate among the general population, as shown in Table ECON 7a.
- The percentage of households with food insecurity has decreased between 2004 and 2005 (11.9 and 11.0 percent, respectively). This reverses a five year trend, as shown in Table ECON 7b.
Table ECON 7a. Percentage of Households Classified by Food Security Status and Selected Characteristics: 2005
Table ECON 7b. Percentage of Households Classified by Food Security Status: 1998-2005
Economic Security Risk Factor 8. Lack of Health Insurance
Figure ECON 8. Percentage of Persons without Health Insurance, by Income: 2005
Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2006.
- Poor persons were almost twice as likely as all persons to be without health insurance in 2005 (31 percent compared to 16 percent). While the ratio varied across categories, persons with family income at or below the poverty line were more likely to be without health insurance regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, age or family status.
- Hispanics were the ethnic group least likely to have health insurance in 2005, among both the general population and those with incomes below the poverty line. Hispanic individuals were three times more likely to be uninsured than non-Hispanic white individuals.
- Among all persons, education levels were inversely related to health insurance coverage. However, among poor persons, there was less variation in insurance coverage rates across education levels than there was among all persons, as shown in Figure ECON 8.
- As shown in Table ECON 8, more than half of poor people ages 25 to 34 were without health insurance. Among the general population, individuals ages 18 to 24 were the most likely to be without health insurance.
- Among all persons, individuals in married families were more likely to have health insurance than those in female or male-headed households. People in poor married families, however, were less likely to have insurance than those in poor female or male-headed families, as shown in Table ECON 8.
Table ECON 8. Percentage of Persons without Health Insurance, by Income and Selected Characteristics: 2005