Saturday, May 4, 2013

US Poverty Rates 1990 through 2010

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Poverty is a risk factor for low infant birth weight.  We expect birth weight and poverty status to exhibit covariance to the extent that poverty affects the health status of childbearing women.  Poverty and its associated living conditions are well-documented risk factors for poor health status generally and in particular poor infant health at birth.  Poverty related social determinants of health include limited social support, low income, marginal food and housing, high unemployment, and less than a high school education.

The U.S. government measures poverty according to the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG).  Each year, the Department of Health and Human Services publishes the official federal statistical definition of poverty according to income thresholds.  In 2012, the income threshold for defining poverty was $11,170 for one person and $23,050 for a family of four.  Each year the federal government updates the income thresholds using the consumer price index (CPI) to account for price increases due to inflation.  However it is important to note that these increases maintain purchasing power in current dollars only, while constant dollar value has remained unchanged since 1963 when the FPG were first established.       

Estimates for US poverty rates from 1990 through 2010 show that they have increased for females, males, and the total population.  In 1990 13.5 percent of the U.S. population was uninsured compared with 15.1 percent in 2010, a 1.6 percentage point increase or 12 percent over 21 years.  Referring to the chart below you can see that the rate for all groups dropped to their lowest points in 2000  but since then have shown a steady increase.  For all years shown below the poverty rate is consistently higher for females compared with males and the total population.  You can see that in 2010 compared with 1990 the gap between rates for males and females is converging.   Although the rates below are for the composite U.S. population, it is important to note that they vary across states.  For example, in 2010, 20% of adult women living in the U.S. reported having an income at or below the federal poverty level (FPL) and state-level rates ranged from 10% in New Hampshire to 27% in Louisiana.

Data source:  The U.S. Census Bureau, Poverty Statistics Branch


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