Stories

Poverty is still a huge problem in America

Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

You might have heard that the poverty rate in America has finally fallen below its pre-recession level — but what has been less reported is that the number of Americans living in poverty is still higher than it was in 2007.

Why it matters: It's even higher than it was in 1964, when the War on Poverty began.

  • The number of Americans living in poverty — 38.1 million — is roughly the same as the population of California.
  • The poverty line for a family with 2 adults and 2 children is set at an annual income of $25,465.

Flashback: In January 1964, President Lyndon Johnson used his State of the Union address to launch an "unconditional war on poverty." The effort encompassed Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and expanded Social Security benefits.

  • The good news: Johnson's measures worked. The poverty rate in America fell from 19% in 1964 to just 11.1% in 1973.
  • The bad news: The poverty rate stopped falling in 1973, and in no year since then has it been that low. Meanwhile, thanks to the growing U.S. population, the absolute number of Americans in poverty has crept back to its early-1960s levels. It hit an all-time high of 46.3 million in 2010 — more than double the low point in 1973.

The bottom line: In the 1960s, inequality was a problem caused by the high prevalence of poverty. Today, it's much more about the wealth of the top 1%. Poverty, however, remains a huge problem in America.