Monday September 3, 2001
The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services both record poverty statistics for the country, but they each have their own calculations for the poverty income level. The Census Bureau numbers are used to estimate the number of Americans living in poverty, while the Department of Health and Human Services numbers are used to determine financial eligibility for many federal programs. However, the two sets of numbers don't differ dramatically.
The Census Bureau determines poverty by looking at money income, plus family size and composition. "Money income" is income before taxes and doesn't include capital gains and non-cash benefits (like food stamps). The bureau does not take geography into account, but it does consider annual inflation levels.
Here are selections from the latest data online for the Census Bureau's poverty thresholds for 2000:
* One person, under 65 years -- $8,959
* One person, 65 years and over -- $8,259
* Two people, householder under 65 years, including one child under 18 years -- $11,869
* Four people, including two children under 18 years -- $17,463
The Department of Health and Human Services doesn't make distinctions based on age, but it does separate Alaska and Hawaii because the cost of living in those two states is "traditionally believed to be significantly higher than in other states."
Here are some highlights of the Department of Health and Human Services' poverty guidelines for 2001:
* One person in the 48 contiguous U.S. states and Washington, D.C. -- $8,590
* One person in Alaska -- $9,890
* One person in Hawaii -- $10,730
* Two people in the 48 contiguous U.S. states and Washington, D.C. -- $11,610
* Four people in the 48 contiguous U.S. states and Washington, D.C. -- $17,650
As you can see, the numbers from the Census Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Services are pretty close. Basically, if an individual makes less than $9,000 per year and a family of four makes less than $18,000 per year, they're earning below the poverty income level in the United States.