Poverty in the United States: 50-Year Trends and Safety Net Impacts.

Page Count
Year Published
Author (Individual)
Chaudry, Ajay.
Wimer, Christopher.
Macartney, Suzanne.
Frohlich, Lauren.
Campbell, Colin.
Swenson, Kendall.
Oellerich, Don.
Hauan, Susan.
Author (Organization)
United States Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Human Services Policy.
Resource Type
Resource Format
This report provides a statistical portrait of progress in the reduction of poverty and economic hardship over the past five decades in the United States. The poverty measures presented in this volume show that the federal safety net has advanced the economic circumstances of low- income children and families since 1964. Three key metrics assess whether families were able to secure resources to meet their basic human needs and avoid severe material deprivation: the official poverty measure developed by Mollie Orshansky in 1963-1964 and designated as the federal government’s official statistical definition of poverty in 1969; the supplemental poverty measure that was first released by the Census Bureau for 2009, and offers a modern measurement of family needs and includes tax credits and noncash benefits as available resources; and the alternative poverty measure that was recently developed by Columbia University and extends the supplemental poverty measure back decades to evaluate the impact of the full federal safety net prior to 2009. By employing all three measures, the report explains overall poverty rates and trends and demonstrates the clear positive impact of the evolving social safety net on the economic well-being of individuals and families during the past 50 years. Trends indicate poverty has decreased for the overall population since the 1960s, the safety net’s impact on reducing poverty rates has increased greatly over time, and during periods of economic contraction, the safety net slows potential growth in poverty and alleviates many severe conditions of material deprivation. The higher poverty of single-mother families, Blacks and Hispanics, and the increasing poverty in the West are discussed. The report closes by emphasizing the need to reduce poverty to improve child and highlighting the benefits of pre-kindergarten education for the most disadvantaged children. 27 figures and 29 references. (Author abstract modified)

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