US Poverty: By the Numbers

  • submit to reddit

US poverty (less than $19,090 for a family of three): 46.5 million people, 15 percent

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 23 percent of all children, including 39.6 percent of African-American children and 33.7 percent of Latino children. Children are the poorest age group in the US

Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including 7.1 million children

People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2012: 61.8 million (program kept 15.3 million people out of poverty)

People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half

Gender gap, 2012: Women 32 percent more likely to be poor than men

Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers

Percentage of individuals and family members in poverty who either worked or lived with a working family member, 2011: 57 percent

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty

Families receiving cash assistance, 2011: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty

Impact of public policy, 2010: Without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high — nearly 30 percent of population

Percentage of entitlement benefits going to elderly, disabled or working households, 2010: Over 90 percent

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,168,354

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $500 billion

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2014 estimate: $101.5 billion

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: Less than $50 billion

Unless otherwise noted, all figures are based on 2012 Census Data on poverty, the most recent released.

Greg Kaufmann is a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, the former poverty correspondent for The Nation and a former contributor to BillMoyers.com. The opinions expressed here are his own. You can follow him on Twitter @GregKaufmann.
  • submit to reddit

BillMoyers.com encourages conversation and debate around issues, events and ideas related to content on Moyers & Company and the BillMoyers.com website.

  • The editorial staff reserves the right to take down comments it deems inappropriate.
  • Profanity, personal attacks, hate speech, off-topic posts, advertisements and spam will not be tolerated.
  • Do not intentionally make false or misleading statements, impersonate someone else, break the law, or condone or encourage unlawful activity.

If your comments consistently or intentionally make this community a less civil and enjoyable place to be, you and your comments will be excluded from it.

We need your help with this. If you feel a post is not in line with the comment policy, please flag it so that we can take a look. Comments and questions about our policy are welcome. Please send an email to info@moyersmedia.com

Find out more about BillMoyers.com's privacy policy and terms of service.

  • Fiona Mackenzie

    Thanks, Greg. And hugs for Bill Moyers.

  • Jill

    Those numbers are sobering.

  • http://plus.google.com/u/0/111051039748078110427/about novenator

    We can do better. America can do better than this.

  • florence

    Bad news. Very bad. What I don’t understand is why? So much aide going to other countries but our kids are without the basics. Maybe the Hollywooders would like to adopt some American kids too or maybe do some social work here; ya know, just to help out a bit?

  • Jim

    Thank god that idiot Romney and his teabagging mate Ryan were rejected at the polls. Social Security would be gone, and the poorest in this country would be even more.

  • Anonymous

    The trickle down economy! Hail the CEO! Let’s get rich people richer and no let them not pay taxes at all!

    Anything else would be socialism or communism? Hey, who needs food, shelter or health care – who needs education or jobs?

  • Anonymous

    You still have problems to recognize that policies of Democrats or Republicans would be the same!

    Give all your tax payer money to finance the thugs of Israel!

  • Anonymous

    In the Jew controlled US the definition of poverty is opportunity!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Valentine/1277133078 Michael Valentine

    Cutting food stamps while subsidizing Exxon is an act of Jesus hating commies.

  • Robert Adams

    This is not your dad’s America.

  • Anonymous

    For the same stats at two different time points, the changes represent things getting worse. In just one year, from 2010-2011, women went from 29% more likely to be poor than men, to 34% more likely. And, in 1996, 68/100 families in poverty got cash assistance. In 2010, that dropped to 27/100. How do those 73/100 other families manage and feed their children?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1578168779 Darius Dpas Deepazz Smith

    NO ONE in America should be allowed to go hungry or be poor. No one.

  • John

    “People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million (program kept 21.4 million people out of poverty)” — seriously? The numbers speak for themselves, there’s no need to resort to slimy tactics like trying to make it sound like the impact of SS is 3 times larger than it is and only correcting yourself as a parenthetical afterthought. Pathetic.

  • John

    I would like to add that getting the numbers out is important, and I applaud your effort for that. Just that way you phrased that one data point left a bad taste in my mouth.

  • Becca Stareyes

    Checking the US budget tells me that foreign aid spending is about 6% of domestic welfare spending (and that’s only including direct payments and health insurance, not, say, education programs or urban renewal or tax reform… or things like Social Security that are not intended to relieve poverty but often serve as a major source of income for the elderly and disabled). Moreover, a lot of the countries getting a lot of money in aid were ones that had recent major problems rather than just ‘chronically poor’: Haiti’s earthquake, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. Just like I’d expect more money to go to, say Oklahoma than rural Nebraska for a year or two because there needs to be a large influx of money to provide people with streets and infrastructure to rebuild as well as deal with chronic problems like poverty.

    And actually from what I understand, adopting a healthy American baby has a supply and demand problem: there’s a lot more parents than babies, so asking Hollywood stars to do so is kind of pointless; those kids have their pick of homes without help. Getting adoptive parents to take an older kid or a disabled kid is a lot harder.

  • Anonymous

    The work that Greg Kaufmann does by shining a light on America poverty is invaluable. We’ve been subjected to an ongoing campaign against the poor (by govt/corporate media) since the late 1970s. It has been tremendously successful, eliminating such things as public empathy and compassion even from otherwise-progressive media.The result is that the average middle class American today is numbingly ignorant about poverty — and certainly about how our polices against the poor have been working so powerfully to phase out the middle class. We’re in desperate need of a legitimate national discussion about US poverty.

  • Anonymous

    What can we say about someone who went around preaching that we have a moral/spiritual duty to aid the poor, going to the leftist extreme of saying that it would be easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

  • Anonymous

    The bottom line is that so much of middle class America has been so grievously misinformed about poverty that they can no longer even think about it rationally. How can we explain a generation that believes, in defiance of all logic, that hellish deprivation (and the relentless anxiety/fear that comes with being poor in this culture) are merely a matter of “lifestyle choices”?

  • Anonymous

    But we have been undergoing a major crisis here, and the impact on the survivors is much the same as for those who survive earthquakes, tornados, etc. While the US was in the midst of shipping out a massive number of jobs — the very sort of jobs that had created the huge middle class we had between WWll and the 1980s — we decided to eliminate basic poverty relief, leaving an entire segment of the population with little or no means of getting by. We “got tough” on those who are left jobless, homeless, often becoming permanently unemployable. Meanwhile, we’ve been working for years to build an alternative (super-cheap) labor force, using workfare labor, prison labor and foreign labor to replace middle class wage earners, pushing more people into poverty. In the US today, people do, indeed, die as a result of poverty and the policies we chose. Also, the overall life expectancy of America’s poor has actually been falling since Clinton’s welfare “reform.” Whether losing everything because of a storm or because of job loss, the consequences can be the same.

  • Anonymous

    The data is overwhelming and yet the stories of these Americans are ignored by the MSM. Just since 2009 the top 7% saw an income increase of $5.66 Trillion, while the bottom 93% saw an income decrease of $850 B. Over the past thirty years the numbers are even more slanted; the fact is that money is being funneled UP to the wealthiest and our society and economy is being plundered. Consider this, the average American TWO income family of today is 15% poorer than the ONE income family of 1974. How can that be? All the productivity and economic gains of the information age’s massive computerization and nothing has ‘trickled down’? [Trickle down-- the most disproven economic theory in history; treated as gospel by DC].
    Why? Our currency is controlled by a privately and anonymously owned corporation–the Federal Reserve Corporation. They print money when they want, they print how much they want, and they give it to whoever they want. If the gov wants to spend money, they have to ‘borrow’ it from this same company and pay interest. The POTUS is only allowed to appoint two members to their six member board, and he’s only allowed to select the nominees from a list given to him by… The Federal Reserve Corporation!
    ‘The borrower is slave to the lender’ –Psalms
    We all see it–a national election for POTUS with the major issue being the economy and not a mention of the private company’s endless money printing; with bailed out banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan being the major contributor to BOTH candidates.
    The Constitution allows the US Treasury to issue currency interest free. By controlling the money supply, this private company can make money in any market. The QE IV that we’re currently in has them printing $85 B/month indefinitely and giving the money to….? themselves, no strings attached [to buy assets that have real value, like real estate, gold, other banks, whatever they want]. In 2008, the FED Inc printed $16 Trillion IN SECRET and gave the money to….? again, whoever they wanted, including foreign banks. Inflation is a tax too, barely concealed. The more dollars in circulation, the less each is worth. Food prices increased 33% between Jan 2010 and Jan 2011; did your pay increase that much? Your investments? That is the Fed Inc. stealing wealth. End the Fed Inc and return the issuance of our currency to the US Treasury.

  • W

    This is not my America.

  • Jim

    Oklahoma is the Bible Belt, with Tulsa as the buckle. Let ‘em pray for help. Maybe Rick Perry can give them some tips.

  • Anonymous

    Starting wars in foreign countries is not the same giving them aid. It is an effort to destroy and reshape them so that we can take their resources or some other strategic asset. Actual foreign aid (food, medicine, catastrophic emergency aid) is a tiny fraction on one percent of the annual US budget.

  • Anonymous

    We need to stop demonizing the poor and make sure everyone is aware of who the true demons are!

  • LDZenack

    Yes.
    These facts should be trumpeted by the Democratic Party. I do not understand, though, their tradition of poor communication skills. What is with that, anyway?
    Then, there is the Gang of 8 working on the Immigration Bill. The 4 Democratic members seem to have acquiesced to Hatch’s demand that additional thousands of foreign high tech workers be allowed temporary visas. Hey, that should help keep wages high in this country and provide jobs for the unemployed in that industry!!!
    So, it continues!

  • Anonymous

    Well, I guess President Johnson’s war on poverty, has been an abject failure. We now have millions of people, relying on government assistance, with no expectation or desire to take personal responsibility for themselves and their families. The Obama Administration has added 23 million people to the food stamp rolls. With a $17 Trillion national debt and fully 50% of the american people paying no federal income tax, this situation, is unsustainable.

  • Anonymous

    And we have a community organizer posing as our president, with too many scandals to count. The re-election of Obama showed how stupid the American people are. Offer entitlements and you will get their vote. Wait until obamacare really kicks in, and watch the fur fly.

  • Arthur Brooks

    Or, without a roof over his head.

  • Arthur Brooks

    I receive less than $700.00 monthly from Social Security. Sometimes according to the wealth of the economy I get a $10.00 a month bump once yearly. Hard to keep up with the Jones`s or needs.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, sojourner. Good summary of the problem and the solution. I wonder if Kaufmann read it. I wonder if he knows about and understands money is debt in our debt based monetary system. I wonder if he understands the history of money and banking. If not, his job of covering poverty in America is just reporting on the devastation resulting from our monetary system rather than reporting on causes and solutions. I wonder if Bill Moyers knows. I’ve never heard him interview anyone who has researched and published on this issue, like Ellen Brown or Bill Still. I ended up on this site searching for “bill moyers ‘end the fed’”. The current government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis reminds me of the parable about the man with his arms wrapped around a big tree yelling at the tree for it to let him go. The solution is so simple – it would just take an informed citizenry. As Henry Ford said, “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”