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Poverty Rate of Children Higher Than National Rate, Lower for Older Populations

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The national poverty rate was 12.8% in 2021, but was significantly different for the nation’s oldest and youngest populations, according to a new Census Bureau report released today.

The child poverty rate (for people under age 18) was 16.9% in 2021, 4.2 percentage points higher than the national rate, while poverty for those ages 65 and over was 10.3%, 2.5 percentage points lower than the national rate.

The American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year estimates provide data for a number of demographic, social and economic indicators, including poverty. The estimates are used by planners, policymakers and community stakeholders to evaluate trends and make comparisons across demographic groups.

The national child poverty rate was 16.9% but there was considerable variation among states, ranging from 8.1% to 27.7%.

Government agencies, researchers and local organizations regularly use these estimates to measure economic well-being and identify the number of individuals and families eligible for various programs. 

How Poverty Is Measured

Poverty status is determined by comparing annual income to a set of dollar values (called poverty thresholds) that vary by family size, num­ber of children and the age of the householder.

If a family’s pre-tax income is less than the dollar value of their threshold, that family and every member are considered to be in pov­erty. For people not living in families, poverty status is determined by comparing the individual’s income to their poverty threshold.  

The poverty measure excludes children under the age of 15 who are not related to the householder, people living in institutional group quarters – such as correctional facilities and nursing homes – as well as people living in college dormitories or military barracks.

Child Poverty by State, Region and Metro

The national child poverty rate was 16.9% but there was considerable variation among states, ranging from 8.1% to 27.7%.

Figure 1 illustrates the uneven geographic distribution of child poverty in every state and the District of Columbia.

Three-quarters of states in the South region (12 states) and the District of Columbia had child poverty rates of at least 18.0%.

The Midwest and Northeast each had only one state with child poverty rates of at least 18.0% and the West had two.

Child poverty rates by state:

  • Among the lowest were Utah (8.1%) and New Hampshire (9.2%). (These estimates are not significantly different from one another.)
  • Among the highest were Mississippi (27.7%), Louisiana (26.9%) and the District of Columbia (23.9%). (These estimates are not significantly different from one another.)

Child poverty rates also varied widely – from 2.1% to 39.2% – among the nation’s 384 Metropolitan Statistical Areas or metro areas in 2021 (Figure 2).

Forty-one (69.5%) of the 59 metro areas with the nation’s highest child poverty rates were in the South and accounted for 26.3% of all of the region’s 156 metro areas.

In contrast, only 5.1% of metro areas in the highest child poverty rate category were in the Northeast and the Midwest, and 20.3% in the West. More than a third (31 of 86) of the metro areas in the lowest child poverty category were in the West; these metro areas accounted for over 35% of the region’s total metro areas. 

Poverty Rate for People Ages 65 and Over

In 2021, the national poverty rate for people ages 65 and over was 10.3%, significantly lower than the poverty rate for all people and the child poverty rate.

There were geographic variations in these poverty rates though not as pronounced as for the child poverty rate. The poverty rates for the older population ranged from 6.7% to 14.1% (Figure 3). 

The South had eight states and the District of Columbia with poverty rates of 11.0% or more. No other region had more than three states with such high poverty rates for the 65-plus population.

 Ages 65 and over poverty rates by state:

  • Among the lowest: Wyoming (6.7%), New Hampshire (6.9%), Delaware (6.9%), Utah (7.7%), and Colorado (7.7%). (These estimates are not significantly different from one another.)
  • Among the highest: Louisiana (14.1%), the District of Columbia (13.8%), Mississippi (13.8%) and New Mexico (12.8%). (These estimates are not significantly different from one another.)

There were even greater variations in the poverty of the older populations between metro areas – from 3.1% to 31.6% (Figure 4).

The majority (276 or 71.9%) of the nation’s 384 metro areas had poverty rates for people ages 65 and over that fell into two categories on the map: 7.0%-8.9% and 9.0%-11.9%.

Of the 61 metro areas with poverty rates at 12.0% or higher for people ages 65 and over, 53 were in the South (39) or the West (14). The South had 25% of all its metro areas in the two highest poverty categories compared to just 5.4% of those in the Midwest.

Additional poverty data from the 2021 release and links to poverty estimates from other surveys such as the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) are available on this topics page

Craig Benson is a survey statistician in the Census Bureau’s Poverty Statistics Branch.

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