Despite Record Low Poverty Rate in 2019, Inequalities Persist

Income and Poverty in the United States: 2019 and The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2019. Between 2018 and 2019, poverty continued to decrease, while median household income and earnings increased. The 2019 poverty rate of 10.5% was the lowest estimate ever reported, down 1.3 percentage points from 2018. Despite this progress, significant disparities still existed across racial and ethnic groups, by household type, and by sex. Because these reports estimate rates for 2019, the effect of COVID-19 on poverty and income is not captured.

The reports present estimates based on the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements (CPS ASEC), a household-level survey that collects employment, income, and health insurance data from residents of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The 2019 sample was comprised of approximately 91,500 addresses.

Household median income increased from $64,324 to $68,703 between 2018 and 2019, and the number of people with earnings increased by 2.2 million. Median income increased for all demographic subgroups, though income inequality persists. In 2019, households in the lowest income quintile earned approximately 3.1% of all household income, while those in the highest income quintile received 51.9% – over half – of all household income. Real median household income varied widely along racial and ethnic lines. Asians had the highest real median income at $98,174, followed by whites at $76,057. Black and Hispanic households had median incomes of $45,438 and $56,113, respectively. The female-to-male earnings ratio did not change significantly, with females making 82.3% of what males make.

The poverty rate continued a steady decline, falling from 11.8% in 2018 to 10.5% in 2019. In 2019, an estimated 34 million Americans lived in poverty. Though poverty rates fell for all racial and ethnic groups, significant disparities exist. The poverty rate among non-Hispanic white households was 7.3%, less than half of that for Black households at 18.8% and significantly less than that of Hispanic households, at 15.7%. Poverty also continues to disproportionately burden single female head of households. The overall family poverty rate in 2019 was 7.8%, but 22.2% of single female head of households experienced poverty.

The Census also reports results using the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which includes income from government safety net programs and takes into account cost of living. The 2019 SPM poverty rate is 11.7%, slightly higher than the official poverty rate of 10.5%. Nonetheless, the SPM showed similar trends as the official measure, including a decrease in overall poverty from 2018 to 2019 and a statistically significant decrease in poverty among most demographic subgroups. The SPM also assesses how many households are kept out of poverty as a result of federal anti-poverty programs. In 2019, Social Security kept 26.5 million individuals out of poverty, by far the most of any program. Refundable tax credits followed, keeping 7.5 million individuals out of poverty. Housing subsidies kept 2.6 million individuals out of poverty, the fourth highest out of the 12 programs included in the SPM measurement.

The reports can be found at: and