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SOWK 5380: Poverty in the United States (Ager)

How the U.S. Census Bureau Measures Poverty

The U.S. Census Bureau computes two different measures of poverty, the official poverty measure and the supplemental poverty measure. The infographic (printable PDF) and table below explain the different between the two measures. how the U.S. Census measures poverty

U.S. Census Bureau. Measuring America: How the U.S. Census Bureau measures poverty. Retrieved from


Poverty Measure Concepts: Official and Supplemental
  Official Poverty Measure Supplemental Poverty Measure
Measurement Units
Families (individuals related by birth, marriage,
or adoption) or unrelated individuals
Resource units (official family definition plus any coresident
unrelated children, foster children, and unmarried partners and
their relatives) or unrelated individuals (who are not otherwise
included in the family definition)
Poverty Threshold
Three times the cost of a
minimum food diet in 1963

Based on expenditures of food, clothing, shelter, and utilities
Threshold Adjustments
Vary by family size,
composition, and age of

Vary by family size and composition, as well as geographic
adjustments for differences in housing costs by tenure
Updating Thresholds Consumer Price Index:
all items
5-year moving average of expenditures on FCSU
Resource Measure Gross before-tax cash income Sum of cash income, plus noncash benefits that resource units
can use to meet their FCSU needs, minus taxes (or plus tax
credits), minus work expenses, medical expenses, and child
support paid to another household

Table from Fox, L. (2017). The supplemental poverty measure: 2016. Current Population Reports. Retrieved from

Federal Policy Guidelines for Benefits Eligibility

Produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the poverty guidelines are a streamlined version of the poverty thresholds used to administer eligibility for programs such as Head Start, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the National School Lunch Program, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.