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Poverty in the United States: 2001

Written by:
Report Number P60-219


Poverty data offer an important way to evaluate the nation's economic well-being. Because poor people in the United States are too diverse to be characterized along any one dimension, this report illustrates how poverty rates vary by selected characteristics—age, race and Hispanic origin, nativity, family composition, work experience, and geography. These data reveal how many people were poor and how the poverty population has changed. A description of the official measure of poverty may be found on page 5.

Whether one is in poverty or not provides but one perspective on economic well-being. This report discusses as well the extent of poverty (page 9) and more comprehensive experimental measures of poverty that account for noncash benefits (such as food stamps) and taxes (such as the Earned Income Credit) in income (page 13).

The estimates in this report are based on interviewing a sample of the population. Respondents provide answers to the best of their ability, but as with all surveys, the estimates may differ from the actual values.


  • The poverty rate in 2001 was 11.7 percent, up from 11.3 percent in 2000.
  • In 2001, people below the poverty thresholds numbered 32.9 million, a figure 1.3 million higher than the 31.6 million poor in 2000.
  • At 16.3 percent, the poverty rate for children remained higher than that of other age groups, but did not change between 2000 and 2001.
  • For people 18 to 64 years old, the poverty rate rose to 10.1 percent in 2001, up from 9.6 percent in 2000.
  • In 2001, there were 6.8 million poor families (9.2 percent), up from 6.4 million (8.7 percent) in 2000.
  • For non-Hispanic Whites the poverty rate rose between 2000 and 2001 (from 7.4 percent to 7.8 percent), as did the number who were poor (from 14.4 million to 15.3 million). Poverty rates for Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians and Pacific Islanders did not change between 2000 and 2001. However, the number of poor Hispanics rose to 8.0 million in 2001, up from 7.8 million in 2000.1
  • The poverty rate in the South increased from 12.8 percent in 2000 to 13.5 percent in 2001. The poverty rates in the Northeast, Midwest, and West did not change.
  • The poverty rate for people living in the suburbs rose from 7.8 percent in 2000 to 8.2 percent in 2001; the poverty rate did not change in central cities or in nonmetropolitan areas.2
  • How poverty is measured affects one's perception of who is poor. Six experimental measures showed lower poverty rates for children, Blacks, and people in female-householder families than under the official measure, while poverty rates for those 65 and over varied greatly according to how medical expenses were taken into account.
  • Four of six experimental poverty measures showed an increase in the poverty rate from 2000 to 2001, while two showed no change.

1 Because Hispanics may be of any race, data in this report for Hispanics overlap slightly with data for the Black population and for the Asian and Pacific Islander population. Based on the 2002 Current Population Survey Annual Demographic Supplement, 3.7 percent of the Black population and 2.4 percent of the Asian and Pacific Islander population were of Hispanic origin. For the poor population, Hispanic made up 4.7 percent of Blacks and 2.5 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders (a percentage similar to the total Asian and Pacific Islander population). Despite the sample expansion, single-year data for the American Indian and Alaska Native population are not shown in this report because of their small sample size in the 2002 Current Population Survey Annual Demographic Supplement.
2 In this report, "suburbs" refers to metropolitan areas outside central cities.


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