CHN: Number of Americans Living in Poverty Increases for Third Consecutive Year

The number and percentage of Americans living below the poverty level has increased for the third year in a row, according to data released by the Census Bureau on August 26. The total number of Americans living in poverty rose from 31.6 million in 2000 (12.1 percent) to 35.9 million in 2003 (12.5 percent). The number of poor people rose significantly among residents of the South and Midwest, Hispanics and Asians, residents of cities and suburbs, and working-age adults (aged 18-64). In addition to releasing annual national data, the Census Bureau also released state and local profiles about poverty, income, housing and other information. The Coalition on Human Needs has compiled 50 state income and poverty tables. *** Need link***
The Poor Become Poorer

Those living below the poverty line were on average more poor in 2003. The poverty level as defined by the Census Bureau in 2003 was $14,680 a year for a family of three, or $18,810 for a family of four. The average income for families living under the poverty level was $8,858 in 2003, which is a decrease from the 2002 average of $9,164 (in 2003 dollars). The “depth” of poverty, calculated as the average amount by which the incomes of poor people fall below the poverty line, was the largest on record since 1975. The number of Americans living in “extreme poverty,” with incomes lower than one-half of the poverty level, was 15.3 million in 2003. This represents 43 percent of poor people, more than at any time since 1975.


The rise in poverty hit children hard. From 2002 to 2003, the poverty rate among children under 18 rose from 16.7 percent to 17.6 percent, and the number of children living in poverty rose from 12.1 million to 12.9 million. In 2003, more than one-third of Americans living in poverty were children. Single-mother families accounted for two-thirds of the total increase in the number of poor children. The number of children living in extreme poverty rose by over half a million (515,000) from 2002 to 2003, and nearly one million (929,000) from 2000 to 2003. (For a 3-person family, extreme poverty is defined as less than $7,340 a year.)

Median Income

Median household income held steady, but many groups, including households headed by young adults (under age 34) and Hispanics, saw a dramatic decrease in income. The youngest households (headed by people 15-24 years old) lost the most – a $1,415 drop in median income, or 5 percent. The bottom fifth of American households received only 3.4 percent of the country’s total household income, which is the lowest proportion on record.

Health Insurance

The number and percentage of Americans without health insurance has also risen for three years consecutively and reached record levels in 2003. The number of uninsured Americans jumped from 39.8 million in 2000 to 45.0 million in 2003 (15.6 percent, or around one in six), an increase of 5.2 million. Working-age adults (aged 18 to 64) were most significantly affected – 36.3 million (20.2 percent) were not insured in 2003. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this is largely due to a decrease in the amount of coverage offered by businesses to their employees as a result of rising health insurance costs. The percentage of Americans with employment-based insurance dropped from 61.3 percent in 2002 to 60.4 percent in 2003, the lowest level since 1993. These changes have affected almost exclusively low- and moderate-income families-those with yearly incomes of less than $75,000.

For More Information

U.S. Census Bureau: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003 *** Need link***
CBPP: Census Data Show Poverty Increased, Income Stagnated, and the Number of Uninsured Rose to a Record Level in 2003
Coalition on Human Needs: State-by-State tables on poverty and income ***Need link***

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