(This press statement summarizes the numbers released yesterday and provides links to much more detail, including the actual Census Bureau report.)
WASHINGTON, September 10, 2019 — More than 38 million people in the United States lived in poverty in 2018, according to today’s annual release of income, poverty, and health insurance data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The data reveal a decline in the official poverty rate, from 12.3 percent in 2017 to 11.8 percent in 2018. The poverty rate for children in 2018 was 16.2 percent. The high child poverty rate in particular underscores the failure of the nation to reduce unnecessary suffering and invest in its human capital and its future.
The Census Bureau report also showed declining rates of health insurance coverage. Even as more jobs and modestly increasing wages reduce the number of poor people, growing uninsured health costs compete with rent and food for scarce dollars, harming families struggling with incomes modestly above the poverty line.
Another key indicator of poverty is the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which extends the official poverty measure in a number of respects, including taking into account income from some of the federal programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the first line of defense against hunger in this country.
The SPM rate was 13.1 percent in 2018, statistically the same as the 2017 rate of 13 percent. The SPM data show that in 2018, SNAP lifted 3.1 million people out of poverty, school lunches lifted 1.3 million out of poverty, and WIC lifted 275,000 people out of poverty. These numbers likely understate the positive impacts of the programs: researchers have found that some respondents are reluctant to tell surveyors that they are receiving SNAP or other program benefits. Adjusting the data to reflect the estimated actual receipt of SNAP, in particular, substantially increases its anti-poverty effects.
Federal and state governments need to be doing more to reduce poverty and hunger, not taking steps to erode effective programs. However, the Trump administration’s recent proposals to cut people off food assistance could do just that, resulting in millions of people losing their SNAP benefits.