July | August 2017


States Step up Efforts in War on Poverty

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Poverty Guidelines 101

How is Poverty Measured?
Poverty status is determined by comparing annual income to a set of dollar values called thresholds that vary by family size, number of children and age of householder.
Who is Considered to be in Poverty?
If a family’s before-tax income is less than its threshold, then that family and every individual in it are considered to be in poverty. For people not living in families, poverty status is determined by comparing the individual’s income to his or her threshold.
How Often Do the Guidelines Change?
The poverty thresholds are updated annually to allow for changes in the cost of living using the Consumer Price Index. They do not vary geographically; however, separate thresholds are set for Alaska and Hawaii. For example, a family of four in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C., is considered to be in poverty if the annual income for 2010 was less than $22,050. That guideline was $27,570 for Alaska and $25,360 for Hawaii.
What are Poverty Thresholds?
The poverty thresholds are the original version of the federal poverty measure. The Census Bureau updates them each year, although Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration developed them originally.
What is the Purpose of Poverty Thresholds?
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.
What are Poverty Guidelines?
The poverty guidelines are issued each year in the Federal Register by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They are used for determining financial eligibility for certain federal assistance programs.
How are the Guidelines Used?
Programs including Head Start, the Food Stamp Program, the National School Lunch Program, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program determine eligibility for assistance based on the guidelines or percentage multiples of the guidelines—for instance, 125 percent or 185 percent of the guidelines.
Do Some Programs Not Use the Guidelines?
In general, cash public assistance programs—such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families 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.



8 Task Force Recommendations

According to the Center on Law and Social Policy, a public interest advocacy group in Washington, D.C., statewide task forces have recommended many steps to address poverty in their state. Among the most common recommendations are these:
  1. Incentivizing employers and collaborating with other state agencies to serve hard-to-employ populations such as youth and formerly incarcerated adults (Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio)
  2. Expanding and increasing access to federal and state tax credits (Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Rhode Island)
  3. Expanding access and increasing funding to individual development accounts to increase savings and asset building in low-income communities (Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island)
  4. Examining how to best address the cliff effect, whereby individuals in poverty find that even marginal increases in income result in abrupt reductions or eliminations of work supports (Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Vermont)
  5. Increasing outreach and enrollment in the federal food stamps program (Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island)
  6. Increasing and expanding access to affordable, quality transportation systems (Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, Vermont)
  7. Implementing regulatory protections against predatory lending (Alabama, Delaware, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio)
  8. Reviewing and developing alternative poverty measures that fully capture state poverty and the impact of poverty-reduction efforts (Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota, Vermont)



Learn More about Poverty in the U.S.

  1. Center for Law and Social Policy | www.clasp.org
  2. Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity | www.spotlightonpoverty.org
  3. U.S. Census Bureau / Information on Poverty in the U.S. | www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/poverty.html
  4. Global Issues/Poverty | www.globalissues.org/issue/2/causes-of-poverty
  5. National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University | www.nccp.org
  6. National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan | www.npc.umich.edu/poverty
Federally Designated Area Poverty Research Centers
  1. University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research | www.ukcpr.org
  2. Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin | www.irp.wisc.edu/
  3. West Coast Poverty Center, University of Washington | http://depts.washington.edu/wcpc/