Story at a glance

  • Poverty in the U.S. fell in 2020 partly due to pandemic relief payments.
  • The Census Bureau estimated that $400 billion in pandemic relief lifted around 11.7 million Americans out of poverty.
  • The report additionally suggests that without stimulus payments, the number of people in poverty would have increased by 3.7 percent.

Poverty in the U.S. fell in 2020 as pandemic relief payments increased financial resources for millions of Americans, new data suggests. 

Census Bureau statistics show a decline in one of the major data points used to measure poverty. The official rate, which measures financial resources, changed from 11.4 to 10.5 percent in 2020. Further, median household income decreased by roughly $2,000.

The federal poverty level for a two-person household is $17,420 and $26,500 for a household of four.

But a separate statistic called the supplemental poverty measure — which would include pandemic relief — shows a decline from 11.8 percent in 2019 to 9.1 percent in 2020. 

During initial phases of the coronavirus pandemic, across two administrations, most Americans received stimulus checks, ranging from $600 to $1,800, which helped alleviate harmful aspects of the pandemic’s financial toll. Additionally, the federal government provided $600 weekly unemployment benefits for four months in 2020.


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The Census Bureau estimated that $400 billion in pandemic relief lifted around 11.7 million Americans out of poverty.

Broken down further, the new estimates show pandemic relief raised the economic status of 3.2 million children under 18, 6.4 million adults between 18 and 64, and 2.1 million people over 65, according to the bureau’s data. 

The report additionally suggests that without stimulus payments, the number of people in poverty would have increased by 3.7 percent. 

"The federal government played a vital role in stemming the losses from the pandemic," said Elise Gould, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, according to USA Today

"Without government intervention, the pandemic and ensuing economic shock would have translated into even more widespread devastation and large-scale losses of incomes and a spike in poverty,” Gould added. 


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The White House Council of Economic Advisors on Twitter praised the falling poverty measure while pointing to the federal government’s vital role in the decline. 

“This release is an important reminder of the essential role of the government safety net in alleviating the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on economically vulnerable households in 2020,” the council wrote

Around 37 million Americans lived below the poverty line in 2020, which is $12,880 for a single-person household. 


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Published on Sep 15, 2021