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One Version of the [U.S.] Federal Poverty Measure

There are two slightly different versions of the federal poverty measure:

The poverty thresholds are the original version of the federal poverty measure. They are updated each year by the Census Bureau (although they were originally developed by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration). The thresholds are used mainly for statistical purposes--for instance, preparing estimates of the number of Americans in poverty each year.

The poverty guidelines are the other version of the federal poverty measure. They are issued each year in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The guidelines are a simplification of the poverty thresholds for use for administrative purposes--for instance, determining financial eligibility for certain federal programs. (The full text of the Federal Register notice with the 1998 poverty guidelines is available here.)

1998 HHS Poverty Guidelines

Size of 		48 Contiguous
Family Unit 		States and D.C. 	Alaska 		Hawaii

1 			$ 8,050 		$10,070 	$ 9,260
2 			 10,850 		 13,570 	 12,480
3 			 13,650 		 17,070 	 15,700
4 			 16,450 		 20,570 	 18,920
5 			 19,250 		 24,070 	 22,140
6 			 22,050 		 27,570 	 25,360
7 			 24,850 		 31,070 	 28,580
8 			 27,650 		 34,570 	 31,800

For each addi-
tional person, add	  2,800 		  3,500 	  3,220

SOURCE: Federal Register, Vol. 63, No. 36, February 24, 1998, pp. 9235-9238.

(The separate poverty guidelines for Alaska and Hawaii reflect Office of Economic Opportunity administrative practice beginning in the 1966-1970 period. Note that the poverty thresholds--the original version of the poverty measure--have never had separate figures for Alaska and Hawaii.)

Programs using the guidelines (or percentage multiples of the guidelines--for instance, 130 percent of the guidelines) in determining eligibility include Head Start, the Food Stamp Program, the National School Lunch Program, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Note that in general, public assistance programs (Aid to Families with Dependent Children and its block grant successor, and Supplemental Security Income) do NOT use the poverty guidelines in determining eligibility. The Earned Income Tax Credit program also does NOT use the poverty guidelines to determine eligibility.

The poverty guidelines (unlike the poverty thresholds) are designated by the year in which they are issued. For instance, the guidelines issued in February 1998 are designated the 1998 poverty guidelines. However, the 1998 HHS poverty guidelines only reflect price changes through calendar year 1997; accordingly, they are approximately equal to the Census Bureau poverty thresholds for calendar year 1997. (The 1997 thresholds will be issued in final form about September or October 1998; a preliminary version of the 1997 thresholds is now available from the Census Bureau.)

The poverty guidelines are sometimes loosely referred to as the "federal poverty level," but that term is ambiguous, and should be avoided in situations (e.g., legislative or administrative) where precision is important.

Poverty guidelines for recent years for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia can be calculated by addition using the figures shown below:

	First 		Additional 	(Four-Person
Year 	Person 		Person 		Family)

1985 	$5,250 		$1,800 		($10,650)
1986 	 5,360 		 1,880 		( 11,000)
1987 	 5,500 		 1,900 		( 11,200)
1988 	 5,770 		 1,960 		( 11,650)
1989* 	 5,980 		 2,040 		( 12,100)
1990* 	 6,280 		 2,140 		( 12,700)
1991 	 6,620 		 2,260 		( 13,400)
1992 	 6,810 		 2,380 		( 13,950)
1993 	 6,970 		 2,460 		( 14,350)
1994 	 7,360 		 2,480 		( 14,800)
1995 	 7,470 		 2,560 		( 15,150)
1996  	 7,740 		 2,620 		( 15,600)
1997 	 7,890 		 2,720 		( 16,050)
1998 	 8,050 		 2,800 		( 16,450)

(However, note that this simple calculation procedure does NOT reflect the procedure by which the poverty thresholds were originally developed or the procedure by which the poverty guidelines are calculated from the poverty thresholds each year.)

* Note that 1989 and 1990 poverty guidelines figures should NOT be used in connection with determining poverty population figures from 1990 Decennial Census data. Poverty population figures are calculated using the Census Bureau poverty thresholds, not the poverty guidelines.

Poverty guidelines for the years shown above can be found in the Federal Register as follows:

Click here to go to the page of Information Contacts and References on the Poverty Guidelines, the Poverty Thresholds, and the Development and History of U.S. Poverty Lines.

Click here to return to the main Poverty Guidelines, Research and Measurement page.

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