The COVID Pandemic has Slowed Progress on Poverty, According to US Census Data

After achieving a 60-year low in 2019, the poverty rate in the United States increased to 11.4 percent in 2020.

The Covid-19 outbreak upended the US economy and displaced millions of people in 2020, causing family income to fall and the national poverty rate to rise from a 60-year low.

According to yearly data issued Tuesday by the United States Census Bureau, median inflation-adjusted family income fell 2.9 percent to $67,521 last year.

After falling for five years in a row and hitting its lowest level since 1959 in 2019, the poverty rate climbed one percentage point to 11.4 percent in 2019.

Image Source: AL JAZEERA

The numbers assist to paint a picture of the economic health of American families in 2020, in the wake of a pandemic that caused the first annual economic recession since 2009, displaced tens of millions of people, and worsened existing inequities.

People of minority and lower-wage service-industry workers faced the brunt of employment losses. The government’s stimulus cheques and an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits helped cushion the blow, keeping incomes and expenditure afloat in the face of widespread unemployment.

Image Source: AL JAZEERA

Stimulus Help

The Supplemental Poverty Measure, which includes many government-assistance programs, declined 2.6 percentage points to 9.1% in 2020, the lowest since the gauge started in 2009. This rate is lower than the official poverty rate because of economic-relief payments related to the pandemic, which moved 11.7 million people out of poverty in the first two rounds of disbursements. Five million people were added to poverty due to medical expenses.

According to the Census Bureau, there were 37.2 million individuals living in poverty in 2020, up 3.3 million from the previous year. A two-parent, two-child home with less than $26,246 in income is considered poor; the metric varies depending on the size of the household.

According to David Johnson, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and Ford School of Public Policy, the official poverty metric is outmoded and “cannot be utilized to assess public policy.”

Digging Deeper

  • Poverty rates rose among Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites. While the poverty rate among Black people was the highest at 19.5% and the Asian rate also increased, both weren’t statistically significant changes from 2019
  • Close to one in four people without a high-school diploma were in poverty compared with less than 4% of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Women are still more likely to live in poverty at rates of 12.6% compared with 10.2% for men. The female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.83, not statistically different from the 2019 ratio
  • For families with single female heads of household, 23.4% were in poverty compared to 11.4% for families led by single males. Married couples saw the lowest poverty rates at 4.7%, up slightly from a year ago
  • Median incomes for non-Hispanic White, Asian, and Hispanic households all decreased in 2020, while changes for Black households were not statistically different. Real median incomes fell in every region of the country other than the Northeast. Every household income group saw income fall in 2020 except for the top 5% of households
  • Tuesday’s report also shows the share of Americans without health insurance at 8.6% last year, amounting to 28 million people. For people with health insurance coverage, 66.5% are on private insurance and 34.8% are on public plans


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