(August 2005) New poverty estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey indicate that about 13 percent of people nationwide were living in poverty in 2004. However, estimates from the American Community Survey (or ACS, a nationwide annual survey of households conducted by the Census Bureau) show that poverty rates in 2004 varied widely around the country, from less than 8 percent in Connecticut and New Hampshire to nearly 22 percent in Mississippi.1 The ACS estimates also show that over one-third of states had statistically significant increases in their child poverty rates between 2000 and 2004.

Significant Jumps in State Poverty Rates Since 2000

Idaho and Mississippi experienced the biggest jumps of any state in poverty rates since 2000, with increases of more than 3 percentage points. Overall, there were 19 states with statistically significant poverty rate increases since 2000 (see Table 1). Six of these states were located in the Midwest, five were in the West, four were in the Northeast, and four were in the South. For the majority of states, the poverty rate has essentially remained unchanged since 2000. The average poverty threshold for a family of four was $19,311 in 2004; for a single individual, it was $9,643.


Table 1
States with Statistically Significant Changes in Poverty Rates,
2000-2004

Percent of People in Poverty

State
2000
Poverty Rate Estimate
2004
Poverty Rate Estimate
Change
(2000-2004)*
Colorado
8.7
11.1
2.4
Georgia
12.6
14.8
2.2
Idaho
11.4
14.5
3.1
Kansas
9.5
10.5
1.0
Maine
10.1
12.3
2.2
Michigan
10.1
12.3
2.2
Minnesota
6.9
8.3
1.4
Mississippi
18.2
21.6
3.4
Nebraska
9.6
11.0
1.4
Nevada
9.9
12.6
2.7
New York
13.1
14.2
1.1
North Carolina
13.1
15.2
2.1
Ohio
11.1
12.5
1.4
Pennsylvania
10.5
11.7
1.2
Rhode Island
10.7
12.8
2.1
Texas
15.1
16.6
1.5
Utah
8.8
10.9
2.1
Washington
11.6
13.1
1.5
Wisconsin
8.9
10.7
1.8
Vermont
10.7
9.0
-1.7

*Statistically significant based on a 90-percent confidence interval.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2000-2004.
Note: The ACS surveys in 2000 and 2004 are limited to the household population and exclude the population living in institutions, college dormitories, and other group quarters. Data are based on a sample and are subject to sampling variability.


Vermont was the only state with a significant decrease in poverty since 2000: About 9 percent of the population there was in poverty in 2004, compared with 11 percent four years earlier. Vermont has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country (3.6 percent at the end of 2004) and has enjoyed strong job growth since 2000.2

Child Poverty Rates Increasing in Many States

The new ACS estimates show that child poverty rates have also increased in many parts of the country. In Nevada, for example, the child poverty rate increased from 12 percent in 2000 to over 18 percent in 2004. Maine and Rhode Island experienced similar increases. Overall, there were 17 states with significant increases in child poverty since 2000, and only one—Arizona—with a significant decrease (see Table 2). In 2004, the national child poverty rate stood at 18 percent.


Table 2
States with Statistically Significant Changes in Child Poverty Rates,
2000-2004

Percent of Children Under 18 in Poverty

State
2000
Poverty Rate Estimate
2004
Poverty Rate
Estimate
Change
(2000-2004)*
Colorado
9.2
14.2
5.0
Georgia
18.0
20.9
2.9
Idaho
13.9
19.1
5.2
Kentucky
21.4
24.6
3.2
Maine
10.9
16.7
5.8
Michigan
13.6
17.2
3.6
Mississippi
25.9
30.8
4.9
Nebraska
10.0
12.7
2.7
Nevada
12.4
18.5
6.1
New Jersey
10.0
11.7
1.7
New York
18.8
20.3
1.5
North Carolina
18.1
21.5
3.4
Ohio
15.5
18.0
2.5
Rhode Island
15.1
20.7
5.6
South Carolina
19.1
22.5
3.4
Utah
9.7
13.1
3.4
Wisconsin
11.1
13.6
2.5
Arizona
22.7
19.6
-3.1

*Statistically significant based on a 90-percent confidence interval.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2000-2004.
Note: The ACS surveys in 2000 and 2004 are limited to the household population and exclude the population living in institutions, college dormitories, and other group quarters. Data are based on a sample and are subject to sampling variability. The child poverty rate was calculated for persons under age 18 related to the householder by birth, marriage, or adoption.


About the American Community Survey

The American Community Survey is a nationwide annual survey designed to provide communities with reliable and timely demographic, housing, social, and economic data each year. About 3 million households will receive the 2005 ACS questionnaire, making it the largest U.S. population survey ever conducted outside of the decennial census.

The Current Population Survey provides the official national estimates of income and poverty, but the ACS is a valuable source of information about economic trends for states, local communities, and population subgroups. The 2000 to 2004 ACS surveys provide information for states and geographic areas with 250,000 or more people. Starting in 2006, ACS data will be available for areas with populations of 65,000 or more. By 2010, pending continued Congressional funding, the Census Bureau will provide annual, five-year averages of ACS data for communities across the country.

A Population Bulletin on the American Community Survey, authored by PRB staff, will be available on the PRB website in September 2005.


Mark Mather is deputy director of PRB’s Domestic Programs.


References

  1. The ACS also estimates the 2004 U.S. poverty rate at 13 percent.
  2. Eamon Aghdasi et al., “The Economic Performance of the New England States in 2004: An Overview” (Boston: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, 2005) accessed online at www.bos.frb.org, on August 31, 2005.