Based on official estimates, are fewer than 3% of Americans living in poverty?

Saturday, July 11, 2020
By Mikayla Campbell
This Fact Brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.

The Census Bureau reports that in 2018 11.8% of Americans lived beneath the poverty line, which is the income level used to determine eligibility for various benefit programs. Calculations are based on family size. Last updated in January, the figure stood at $12,760 in annual income for an individual living in the 48 contiguous states and at $26,200 for a family of four.

Economists Bruce Meyer and James Sullivan advocate an alternative measure of poverty that takes into account the impact of transfer payments, in-kind assistance and other factors to arrive at a "consumption poverty rate." They estimated that rate at 2.8% in 2018.

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