The official U.S. poverty thresholds create an explicit boundary that defines who lives in poverty, and the U.S. Census Bureau reports annually on this vulnerable population (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith, 2013). Less is known about the low-income population living just above official poverty thresholds. This report describes individuals and families living near poverty—those individuals whose family incomes are close to, but not below, official poverty thresholds.
Unlike the definition of poverty, there is no legislative mandate or policy directive defining near poverty. Historically, the Census Bureau has provided detailed tables of the number and proportion of the population with family income between 100 and 125 percent of the poverty thresholds and referred to this group as near poor. For consistency, this report defines individuals in near poverty in the same way, and it relies on data from the 1967–2013 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) spanning over 45 years.2
This report provides descriptive characteristics of individuals in near poverty covering 1966–2012. It also provides a comparison with characteristics of individuals living in poverty. The demographic characteristics include age, sex, race, family type, and region, as well as educational attainment, employment status, and health insurance coverage.
Since federal and state assistance programs are targeted to the low-income population, including those in near poverty, this report also gives assistance program participation rates of those in near poverty. These programs include public assistance, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the National School Lunch Program.3
1 Charles Hokayem is an Economist in the Poverty Statistics Branch at the U.S. Census Bureau. Misty L. Heggeness is a Labor Economist at the National Institutes of Health. The analysis in this report was conducted while Misty Heggeness was employed by the U.S. Census Bureau.
2 This report uses the first available and most recently available CPS ASEC, 1967 and 2013, respectively.
3 Public assistance programs include Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) and TANF.