Highlights of the new 2018 Census Bureau poverty data
2018’s poverty data is filled with good news for Americans, even though there are some exceptions that demand our attention. AEI’s Resident Fellow in Poverty Studies, Matt Weidinger, is here to guide you through the five major takeaways.
1. Poverty fell again. The official poverty rate (now 11.8 percent) and the number of people in poverty (38.1 million) both fell again in 2018. The poverty rate is now the lowest it has been since 2001 (when it was 11.7 percent). Since peaking at 46.7 million in 2014, the number of people in poverty has fallen by over 8 million. This continued decline in poverty is what you would expect at this point in the economic cycle, given strong job growth and very low unemployment rates – recently at levels seen only at the end of the 1990s expansion, and before that, not since the late 1960s.
2. This data is even more impressive since it ignores major anti-poverty benefits in determining household income and poverty levels. As yesterday’s Official Poverty Measure report notes, “money income does not reflect the fact that some families receive noncash benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance/food stamps, health benefits, and subsidized housing.” As described in this report, in the past two decades those and other anti-poverty benefits not counted as income under the official poverty measure have grown 16 times faster than anti-poverty benefits counted as income. Data included in yesterday’s Supplemental Poverty Measure report displays how counting benefits like refundable tax credits, food stamps, and housing assistance reduces the number of people recorded as being “in poverty” significantly.
3. Work and family continue to be strong protections against poverty. The poverty rate for full-time, full-year workers was 2.3 percent in 2018; among adults aged 18 to 64 who did not work at least one week, the poverty rate was 29.7 percent. The poverty rate for families headed by married couples was 4.7 percent, compared with 24.9 percent for families headed by a single female.
4. Women continue to make major strides in work and earnings. For the first time, in 2018 there were over 50 million full-time, year-round female workers. The median earnings for full-time, full-year female workers are up significantly (about 40 percent in real terms) since the 1970s, while full-time, full-year median earnings for male workers have been generally flat since then.
5. Trouble spots remain. The poverty rate for adults over age 25 without a high school diploma increased 1.4 percentage points to 25.9 percent in 2018. The South continued to have the highest poverty rate (13.6 percent), and was the only region not to experience a decline in its poverty rate in 2018.