1. Update
  2. Economic Justice

Census Poverty Numbers are Encouraging, but Much Work Remains

By Amelia Kegan, September 23, 2016


New poverty numbers are encouraging but highlight the need for expanding the EITC to more people.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation welcomed the U.S. Census Bureau’s release of data showing poverty fell to 13.5 percent in 2015. This drop of 1.8 percentage points is the best we have seen in 16 years. Noteworthy, median household income rose by 5.2 percentage points, or $2,798, the largest one year increase ever recorded in the U.S. with data going back to 1967.

It is a travesty that in a country with such abundance and wealth as the United States, more than one out of every eight people, and nearly one out of every five children live in poverty.

These numbers are very encouraging. The record growth in household income, increase in the percentage of people with health insurance, and the strong decline in poverty all point to positive trends for this country.

However, we still have 43.1 million people living in poverty (below $24,036 for a family of four), and the poverty rate has yet to return to its pre-recession level from 2007. It is a travesty that in a country with such abundance and wealth as the United States, more than one out of every eight people, and nearly one out of every five children live in poverty.

Public Policy Matters

Today’s numbers demonstrate the important role public policy plays for everyday families. The recent improvements to the EITC and Child Tax Credit are particularly critical. The new data from the Supplemental Poverty Measure show that these two tax credits kept 9.2 million people from falling into poverty. Similarly, SNAP (formerly food stamps) kept 4.6 million people out of poverty.

Implications for Policymakers

These numbers have important implications for policymakers. Congress should fix the glaring gap in the EITC to expand it for low-income working adults who aren’t raising children and individuals under 25 years old. This is the lone group of people who often find themselves taxed into poverty.

Reps. Rosa Delauro and Lloyd Doggett with Diane Randall.

Reps. Rosa Delauro and Lloyd Doggett with Diane Randall. Olivia Henry / FCNL

Today’s Census numbers also point to the high work expenses—things like child care, transportation to work, and items that enable people to work--also push people into poverty. Expenses related to work put 5.6 million more people in poverty. Congress should take action to support work by enacting policies like affordable child care, paid family leave, and equal pay so that jobs offer real economic security for more families. Today’s positive news should propel us further with a renewed commitment to take bolder action. Let’s not be satisfied with reducing poverty. Let’s end it.

Amelia Kegan

  • Legislative Director, Domestic Policy

Amelia Kegan leads the domestic policy team's work in analyzing legislation, advocating on Capitol Hill, and developing legislative strategy. Prior to coming to FCNL, Amelia worked at a variety of other national non-profits in D.C. and Chicago, focusing on federal budget, tax, and low-income policy.