Skip to main content

Looking at new US Census poverty data

Earlier this month, the U.S. Census Bureau released their 2022 poverty rate data with some interesting findings. The headline accompanying the new data reads, “Poverty Rate for the Black Population Fell Below Pre-Pandemic Levels,” but we’re curious to know what additional information we can glean from the data.

The data shows the poverty rate among Black Americans hit a record low in 2022, falling below pre-pandemic levels to 17.1%. The Census Bureau noted that this finding remained so even after accounting for survey and methodological changes that have occurred over the years. Additionally, the poverty rate hit a historic low in 2022 for Black youth under the age of 18, landing at 22.3%.

While this trend is great to see compared to the alternative, there is clearly still more progress to be made. To understand why there is more progress to be made, we can look across racial groups at the ratio of population in poverty to total population. Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native, and individuals of two are more races are all groups overrepresented in poverty. Racial groups underrepresented in poverty are only White and Asian Americans.

Among all groups, the official poverty rate trend in the U.S. could be better as well – remaining virtually unchanged at 11.5% in 2022 compared to 2021. The supplemental poverty measure (SPM), which is a separate poverty calculation that accounts for government programs intended to help low-income folks, has an even poorer trendline. 2022 saw an increase of 4.6% from 2021, up to 12.4%. For Black Americans, the SPM increased from 11.3% in 2021 to 17.2% in 2022.

As noted in the Census analysis of the data, “This large increase in SPM poverty was due to the expiration of pandemic safety net programs like stimulus payments and expanded refundable tax credits. These policies contributed to record low SPM rates in 2021 for both the total and Black populations.” Other experts have similarly identified removing pandemic-era government programs, such as the expanded Child Tax Credit, as a contributor toward the increasing SPM rate.

The Child Tax Credit, expanded in 2021, turned out to be a major factor in reduction of poverty, especially for children. It would stand to reason that some pandemic-era programs, and the expanded Child Tax Credit in particular, should be re-implemented in order to lower poverty rates for all groups and close the gap between racial groups. We’re of course happy to see the poverty rate going down, but we need to ensure we maintain progress.