Federal Poverty Level and Guidelines in the U.S.

The U.S. government healthcare system defines the federal poverty level as a measure of financial income for individuals and families. Each year this level is updated in order to inform individuals on the current state of poverty in the United States. With this data, individuals and families are able to determine whether they qualify for federal assistance programs and benefits. Below, we will highlight the current federal poverty level, as well as take a brief look at some of the top impoverished areas in the United States.
Federal Poverty Level and Guidelines in the U.S.

The Federal Poverty Level

Yearly, the U.S. Census Bureau releases a report on our country’s poverty level. This report often generates a large amount of media and social attention predominately because it provides unique insight into our country’s current financial situation. For example, after reading the U.S. Census Bureau’s yearly report, an individual will know what amount of income a person or family has to have in order to be considered in poverty (i.e. the poverty threshold), the percentage of Americans that are fall under this category, and also how poverty is spread across different demographics, such as race, age, family type and region.

Below is the most recently updated poverty threshold organized by size of household:

  • One individual
  • Under the age of 65: $12,331
  • Over the age of 65: $11,367
  • Two people
  • Householder under the age of 65
  • No children: $15,871
  • One child: $16,337
  • Householder over the age of 65
  • No children: $14,326
  • One child: $16,275
  • Three people
  • No children: $18,540
  • One child: $19,078
  • Two children: $19,096
  • Four people
  • No children: $24,447
  • One child: $24,847
  • Two children: $24,036
  • Three children: $24,120
  • Five people
  • No children: $29,482
  • One child: $29,911
  • Two children: $28,995
  • Three children: $28,286
  • Four children: $27,853
  • Six people
  • No children: $33,909
  • One child: $34,044
  • Two children: $33,342
  • Three children: $32,670
  • Four children: $31,670
  • Five children: $31,078

 

When Is a Person Considered to Be in Poverty?

A person or family is considered in poverty if their yearly income falls below the poverty threshold. So, for example, a single 23-year-old making exactly $12,000 a year would be considered to be in poverty, and thus would qualify for federal programs and benefits; yet, it is important to note that a 68-year-old making the same amount would not. As you may have observed above, the poverty level changes for individuals aged 65 or older. This is due to the fact that individuals of this age or older are already eligible for government programs so they have stricter guidelines for additional support.

How Does the Census Measure Income?

In today’s society, there are a variety of methods that one can leverage to obtain money. The Census Bureau is very aware of this and thus has a few different qualifications for income. They use unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, earnings, interest, child support, rents, royalties, Social Security, public assistance and a variety of other sources to determine an individual or families amount of income (Note: they do not count food stamps). Also, amount of income is measured before taxes and does not include capital gains or losses.

Most Impoverished Areas in the United States

Our government seeks to improve all of its citizens, and in order to uncover those in need, federal groups and public organizations often use the U.S. Census Bureau’s Five Year American Community Survey (ACS). Based on these findings, here are some of the most impoverished areas in the United States.

Memphis, Tennessee
• Population: 650,932
• Percentage of population with income under $25,000: 34.9%
• Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 23.7%
• A large majority of the population in poverty are either African American or Hispanic
• Almost half of Memphis’s children live in families whose income falls below the poverty threshold

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
• Population: 1.54 million
• Percentage of population with income under $25,000: 36.4%
• Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 23.9%
• Philadelphia media outlets often call their home “the poorest big city in America”
• Has a high rate of individuals whose income is below even half of the federal poverty threshold

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
• Population: 596,459
• Percentage of population with income under $25,000: 36.5%
• Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 22.1%
• Much of the Milwaukee’s poverty issues stem from a lack of work opportunities

Detroit, Michigan
• Population: 706,663
• Percentage of population with income under $25,000: 48%
• Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 12.7%
• Largest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy (2014)

Although it may be disheartening to see such numbers, they are extremely important on a federal and personal level. Without a yearly report that identifies where poverty currently exists, our government would have a tremendously difficult time allocating funds where necessary. Thus, thanks to the federal poverty level, individuals and families are able to qualify for the federal programs and assistance that they need.

Learn More

Social work is a profession dedicated to enhancing the quality of life, the pursuit of social justice, and helping a wide range of individuals to reach their full potential. Offered by the School of Social Work at the University of New England, the Master of Social Work online option is open to students from a variety of educational backgrounds. The program envisions a world where social workers are at the forefront of advocating with individuals and communities for human dignity and social inclusion by mobilizing efforts to end inequities, exploitation and violence.

 

Sources:
https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/federal-poverty-level-FPL/
https://aspe.hhs.gov/2015-poverty-guidelines
http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/threshld/index.html
http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/measure.html
http://www.cbsnews.com/media/americas-11-poorest-cities/12/

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