Poverty is a state of deprivation, or a lack of the usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. The most common measure of poverty in the U.S. is the “poverty threshold” set by the U.S. government. This measure recognizes poverty as a lack of those goods and services commonly taken for granted by members of mainstream society. The official threshold is adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index. The government’s definition of poverty is based on total income received and does not include non-cash supplements such as food stamps or public housing. For example, the poverty level for 2014 was set at $23,850 (total yearly income) for a family of four.
Most Americans will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75. Poverty rates are persistently higher in rural and inner city parts of the country as compared to suburban areas.
In November 2012 the U.S. Census Bureau said more than 16% of the population lived in poverty, including almost 20% of American children, up from 14.3% (approximately 43.6 million) in 2009 and to its highest level since 1993. In 2008, 13.2% (39.8 million) Americans lived in poverty. Starting in the 1980s, relative poverty rates have consistently exceeded those of other wealthy nations. California has a poverty rate of 23.5%, the highest of any state in the country.
In 2009 the number of people who were in poverty was approaching 1960s levels that led to the national War on Poverty. In 2011 extreme poverty in the United States, meaning households living on less than $2 per day before government benefits, was double 1996 levels at 1.5 million households, including 2.8 million children. This would be roughly 1.2% of the U.S. population in 2011, presuming a mean household size of 2.55 people. Recent census data shows that half the population qualifies as poor or low income, with one in five Millennials living in poverty. Academic contributors to The Routledge Handbook of Poverty in the United States postulate that new and extreme forms of poverty have emerged in the U.S. as a result of neoliberal structural adjustment policies and globalization, which have rendered economically marginalized communities as destitute “surplus populations” in need of control and punishment.
In 2011, child poverty reached record high levels, with 16.7 million children living in food insecure households, about 35% more than 2007 levels. A 2013 UNICEF report ranked the U.S. as having the second highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world.
There were about 643,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people nationwide in January 2009. Almost two-thirds stayed in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program and the other third were living on the street, in an abandoned building, or another place not meant for human habitation. About 1.56 million people, or about 0.5% of the U.S. population, used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009. Around 44% of homeless people are employed.