A Census Bureau report shows that 15 percent of the American population was living in poverty in 2012, according to the institution’s definition of the state. The number of Americans in poverty has been increasing since the turn of the millennium, though there was a decline in the years directly before the financial crisis.


The United States Census Bureau defines poverty as a family of four living on less than $23,492 per year, or an individual under 65 living on less than $11,945 a year. Poverty is measured by the Census Bureau without regard to local pricing. That means that the standards of living of those technically in poverty can vary wildly.

U.S. median income

The median income in the United States remained close to the level it was in 2011, according to the report. The figure fell to $51,017 in 2012 from $51,100 in 2011. Median income is still lower than it was in 2007, before the recession caused falls. The metric is still far below 1999 levels, the highest ever recorded.

In that year, median income for an American household was $56,080. Poverty is barely down from its highest point during the recession. Poverty in America effected 15.1 percent of Americans in 2010. In 2011, the metric stood at 15 percent. Over the last quarter century, the number has averaged just over 13 percent.

Poverty is a difficult phenomenon to measure because it is relative from year to year, and one of the major measures—income—varies in power depending on inflation and specific price circumstances. Some measures of poverty take human capital (like literacy) and living conditions (like housing standards) into account.

Poverty in the USA

15 percent of the population of the United States comes out at just over 46 million people. The United States has been battling poverty in a public way since the Johnson administration. The first Census Bureau measurement of the phenomenon was in 1959, at 22.9 percent.

Economic changes in the American economy, along with income disparity along regional lines, are two of the biggest contributors to poverty in the United States, aside from the depression brought about by the 2008 financial crisis.

The convalescence of the American industrial economy after the dot com bubble led to the rise in poverty in the first years of the decade. That rise in poverty was compounded by the great recession, and has not seen real recovery since. Today’s number marks the first time poverty has been over 15 percent for three years since 1965.