The HHS Poverty Guidelines and Census Poverty Thresholds

Organizational Author(s): The Health and Human Services Department, and the Census Bureau

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Looking at data on poverty in your geographic area will help you target scarce resources and valuable workforce services to assist those most in need.  Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Census Bureau under the U.S. Department of Commerce offer data on individuals living in poverty. 

HHS Poverty Guidelines

HHS updates its poverty guidelines at least annually.  The poverty guidelines are used as an eligibility criterion by the Community Services Block Grant program and a number of other Federal programs.

The poverty guidelines issued are a simplified version of the poverty thresholds that the Census Bureau uses to prepare its estimates of the number of individuals and families in poverty.  As required by law, the annual update is accomplished by increasing the latest published Census Bureau poverty thresholds by the relevant percentage change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI–U).  The poverty guidelines released for 2015 reflect the 1.6 percent price increase between calendar years 2013 and 2014.

After this inflation adjustment, the guidelines are rounded and adjusted to standardize the differences between family sizes. The same calculation procedure was used this year as in previous years.  Note that the HHS 2015 guidelines are roughly equal to the poverty thresholds for calendar year 2014, which the Census Bureau expects to publish in final form in September 2015.

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Census Bureau Poverty Thresholds

The Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty.  If a family's total income is less than the family's threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered in poverty.

The same thresholds are used throughout the United States and do not vary geographically by region or state.  They are updated annually for inflation using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).  Although the thresholds in some sense reflect families needs, many government aid programs use HHS Poverty Guidelines, or multiples thereof.

Poverty thresholds were originally derived in 1963-1964, using U.S. Department of Agriculture food budgets designed for families under economic stress combined with data about what portion of their income families spent on food.




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Posted: 5/31/2017 9:05 PM
Posted By: Teresa Theis
Posted In: LMI Central
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