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Poverty: Measuring Poverty

Explore resources to understand and address structural poverty in the U.S. and around the world.

How is the Threshold Calculated Today?

The Official Poverty Measure (OPM): "The U.S. Census Bureau determines poverty status by comparing pre-tax cash income against a threshold that is set at three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963. [...]  In 2016, the OPM poverty threshold for a family of four was $24,339.  [...] The OPM national poverty rate was 12.7 percent. There were 40.6 million people in poverty."

Institute for Research on Poverty

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM): In 2011 the U.S. Census Bureau began publishing the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). To get a more accurate picture, the SPM not only measures income, but also calculates the cost of necessities, expands the definition of a household, makes geographic adjustments for differences in housing costs, includes the value of public benefits like tax credits, and subtracts medical and work expenses. 

Gobal Threshold

Poverty Guidelines and Assessment Tools

Learn how the U.S. Census Bureau measures poverty.

The USAID site has Poverty Assessment Tools for different countries around the world to be used when assessing the region's poverty and evaluating the impact of its programs. 

Gapminder has the Dollar Street, which allows you to see real families around the world and how much they make in comparison to one another. It also has a poverty dataset that shows percentages of people at $2 a day per country across various years.

Use the Living Wage Calculator by MIT to estimate the cost of living in a specific community or region in the United States.

Watch real-time poverty estimates using the World Poverty Clock.

Real Time Poverty Estimates

The Poverty Measurement website provides U.S. poverty estimates in real-time: "The COVID-19 pandemic has led to dramatic swings in the U.S. labor market and major policy responses. In this time of crisis, it is important to have the latest evidence on how these events are affecting vulnerable populations so policymakers can respond appropriately. Our poverty dashboard reports income and poverty estimates for the U.S., updated monthly to inform these decisions on a near-real-time basis." - Bruce D. Meyer (University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy) and James X. Sullivan (Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities at Notre Dame)

US Census' History of Measuring Poverty in America infographicPoverty: The History of a Measure
From President Johnson's 1964 "War on Poverty" initative to the US Census' involvement, learn about the history of measuring poverty in America: Where it began, how and why it evolved.

Videos from Gapminder

Impact of Pandemic on Extreme Poverty