US Poverty Rate Hits 14%

September 17, 2010

About one in seven Americans had a household income at or below the poverty level in 2009, according to new estimates from the US Census Bureau.

44M Live in Poverty
The nation’s official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3%, up 8.3% from 13.2% in 2008, marking the second statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004. There were 43.6 million people in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million in 2008, the third consecutive annual increase.


Number of People in Poverty at Record High
The poverty rate in 2009 was the highest since 1994, but was 36.2% lower than the 22.4% poverty rate in 1959, the first year for which poverty estimates are available. The number of people in poverty in 2009 is the largest number in the 51 years for which Census Bureau poverty estimates are available.

In 2009, the family poverty rate and the number of families in poverty were 11.1% and 8.8 million, respectively, up 7.8% from 10.3% and 8.6% up from 8.1 million in 2008.

The poverty rate and the number in poverty increased across all types of families: married-couple families (5.8% percent and 3.4 million in 2009 from 5.5% and 3.3 million in 2008); female-householder-with-no-husband-present families (29.9% and 4.4 million in 2009 from 28.7% and 4.2 million in 2008) and for male-householder-no-wife-present families (16.9% and 942,000 in 2009 from 13.8% and 723,000 in 2008).

As defined by the Office of Management and Budget and updated for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, the weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2009 was $21,954.

Poverty Rises for Younger, Native-born and Non-citizens
The poverty rate increased for children younger than 18 (from 19% in 2008 to 20.7% in 2009) and people 18 to 64 (from 11.7% in 2008 to 12.9% in 2009), while it declined for people 65 and older (from 9.7% in 2008 to 8.9% in 2009).

Similar to the patterns observed for the poverty rate in 2009, the number of people in poverty increased for children younger than 18 (14.1 million in 2008 to 15.5 million in 2009) and people 18 to 64 (22.1 million in 2008 to 24.7 million in 2009), and declined for seniors 65 and older (from 3.7 million in 2008 to 3.4 million in 2009).

In addition, the 2009 poverty rate for naturalized citizens was not statistically different from 2008, while the poverty rates of native-born and non-citizens increased from 12.6% to 13.7% and 23.3% to 25.1%, respectively.

Median Earnings for Full-time Workers Rise
Despite the increase in poverty, the real median earnings of men who worked full time, year-round rose by 2% between 2008 and 2009, from $46,191 to $47,127. For women, the corresponding increase was 1.9%, from $35,609 to $36,278.


Real median household income in the United States in 2009 was $49,777, not statistically different from the 2008 median. Median household income was lowest in the South and highest in the West.

Asians Earn Most
Asians reported the highest median household income of any race, $65,469. Blacks reported the lowest, $32,584. Black also reported the largest year-over-year median household income decrease rate (4.4%), while Hispanics reported the largest median household income increase rate (0.7%).

In terms of poverty rate, blacks had the highest poverty rate in 2009 (25.8%), while non-Hispanic whites had the lowest poverty rate (9.4%).

Regionally, the South had the highest poverty rate (15.7%) and the Northeast had the lowest (12.2%).

1 in 10 Kids Persistently Poor
While a majority of US children never experience poverty, one in 10 classifies as “persistently poor,” according to a recent study from The Urban Institute. Sixty-three percent of children enter adulthood without experiencing poverty, but 10% of children are persistently poor, spending at least half their childhoods (or nine-plus years out of 18) living in poverty. Another 17% are poor for one to three years and 10% are poor for four to eight years.

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