Report Characterizes Poverty in America

Report Characterizes Poverty in America

The Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution recently released an update of its study on poverty in America. For the past few years, the Hamilton Project has released an annual report characterizing poverty in America. The latest one, “Who was Poor in the United States in 2017,” is intended to describe who is poor, inform anti-poverty policy, and aid in determining eligibility for means-tested programs.

The update finds that in 2017, 12.3 percent of the population or 39.7 million people lived in poverty, as defined by the official poverty measure. The share of the population living in poverty was statistically significantly lower in 2017 than in 2016 by 0.4 percentage points. One-third of those living in poverty were children, 22 percent were working-age adults in the labor force, 16 percent were working-age caregivers or students, 12 percent were seniors, and 11 percent were disabled.

Of the working-age population between 18 and 64, 41 percent were in the labor force, 20 percent were disabled, 15 percent were caregivers, 14 percent were students, and 7 percent were early retirees. One in 10 working-age adults living in poverty worked full time, 26 percent worked part time, and 4 percent were looking for work.

Of those working part time, 29 percent preferred full-time work but couldn’t find it, 46 percent were students or caregivers, and 5 percent were disabled. The percentage of working-age poor adults who worked part time but preferred full-time work declined by 3.2 percentage points between 2016 and 2017, indicating an increase in employment.

The authors are encouraged by the overall decline in poverty, which was to be expected as the labor market strengthens. However, they advocate for more targeted interventions because so many of the poor, such as the caregivers, students, and the disabled, face significant barriers to working their way out of poverty. And while the strong job market continues to reduce the share of those living in poverty who are working part time, there nevertheless remain millions of Americans who are working full time all year but at wages insufficient to lift them out of poverty.

The report is available here.