The expiration of pandemic-era public assistance measures fueled poverty increases in the majority of states (Corrected)
Poverty in the U.S. is a choice directly reflecting federal, state, and local policies. The expansion of safety net programs in response to the pandemic-driven recession reduced poverty rates nationally in 2021 to below pre-pandemic levels. However, because policymakers ended many of these programs—including expanded unemployment insurance, the expanded Child Tax Credit, and economic impact/stimulus payments—poverty rates rose from 7.8% in 2021 to 12.4% in 2022. Child poverty, which had fallen to record lows in 2021, increased from 5.2% to 12.4% in 2022.
In this post, we show poverty rates in each state. Data for the official poverty measure—the one most often quoted in media—are compared with the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which provides a more complete picture of the well-being of families in the states. When using the more comprehensive measure of poverty, we see that poverty rates increased in the majority of states after programs like the expanded Child Tax Credit were allowed to expire.
The official poverty rate fails to capture the true level of economic hardships faced by families
The official poverty measure classifies a family as being below the poverty line if their pre-tax cash income is lower than the official poverty threshold for their family’s size and the age of family members. The SPM, however, is more reflective of the typical expenses families face. This measure considers family income as well as noncash benefits families receive, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, housing assistance, and tax credits. This measure further adjusts for taxes that families pay, child care expenses, health care costs, and geographical differences in the cost of housing.
Figure A shows the official and SPM rates for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.1 Southern states make up 13 of the 15 jurisdictions with the highest official rates of poverty.2 Mississippi and Louisiana have the second- and third-highest poverty rates at 17.8% and 16.9%, respectively. They are followed by Arkansas (15.9%), Oklahoma (15.8%), Kentucky (15.8%), and West Virginia (15.6%), all with poverty rates above 15%.
When ranked by the SPM, the District of Columbia (14.8%), California (13.2%), and Florida (12.7%) rise to become the jurisdictions with the highest poverty rates—reflecting high costs of living, particularly the cost of housing. Mississippi (12.5%) falls to the fourth-highest poverty rate, followed by New York (11.9%), Texas (11.3%), and Louisiana (10.9%).
Overall, 17 states have SPM rates higher than the 9.8% national rate and 12 of these are in the South.
17 states have Supplemental Poverty Measure rates above the national rate and 12 are in the South: Official and Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) rates by state, 2022
|State||Official poverty rate 2022||Supplemental Poverty Measure rate 2022|
Notes: National SPM 2022 rate is 9.8%. The District of Columbia is counted as one of the 17 states with SPM above the national rate.
Source: Author’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s Poverty in the United States 2022 Table B-5: Number and percentage of people in poverty by state using 3-year average: 2020, 2021, and 2022.
Poverty increased in states across the country
Figure B focuses exclusively on SPM rates in 2021 and 2022. This data shows that poverty rates increased in 27 states once many of the safety net supports ended in 2021. Eleven of these states are in the South. Some of the states with the largest increases, however, include Nevada, Kansas, Washington, Texas, and New Jersey.
Poverty rates rise in more than half of states across the nation: 2021 and 2022 Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) by state
|State||2021 SPM||2022 SPM||2021–2022 percentage point change in SPM|
Source: EPI analysis of 2021 and 2022 U.S. Census Bureau Table B-5: Number and percentage of people in poverty using 3-year averages.
It is difficult to see any clear regional or political patterns that might explain the varied changes in SPM poverty rates across the states. The published SPM data do not allow us to see how the loss of federal pandemic aid programs affected individual states. Further complicating any analysis, the state-level SPM estimates are calculated using three years of data; the 2021 values reflect average conditions from 2019 through 2021 and the 2022 values reflect average conditions from 2020. This means that both year’s estimates include a period when the federal aid programs were in effect and when they were not.
Nevertheless, it is the case that the states that experienced an increase in their SPM rates also tended to experience an increase in their official poverty rate from 2021 to 2022, and Southern states are overrepresented among the states with larger-than-average increases in SPM poverty.3 Of the 22 states where SPM poverty rose more than the overall national increase, nine are in the South. This suggests that conditions that led to higher poverty rates prior to the pandemic—in some cases, state and local policies that fail to protect families from poverty and higher than average housing costs in others—are likely driving the increase in poverty in the most recent state data. Unfortunately, the data we have here do not allow us to identify to what extent each of these contributes to the rise in poverty in specific states.
State lawmakers can pass policies to expand the safety net for vulnerable Americans
The large increase in poverty as pandemic aid programs ended clearly shows that social policy matters for the well-being of Americans and their families. During the pandemic, the federal government moved to ensure that workers, the unemployed, and families across the nation had the resources they needed to make ends meet. But after policymakers let many of these programs expire, 2022 poverty rates increased nationally and across more than half of U.S. states. Policymakers at the state level should heed the lessons of the economic response to the pandemic and implement policies to lift their residents out of poverty and provide them with a path to prosperity.
1. Calculating the Supplemental Poverty Measure at the state level requires the use of 3-year averages to ensure adequate sample sizes. Both the official poverty rate and the supplemental poverty rate here use the 3-year average to ensure they are comparable.
2. The District of Columbia is not a state but is referred to as a state in this blog post for simplicity.
3. Exceptions to this are Mississippi, Hawaii, New York, Idaho, North Dakota, Delaware, and New Mexico. In Mississippi, the official poverty rate declined but the SPM increased. In the remaining states, the official poverty rate went up but the SPM declined.
Correction: This post has been updated to include state poverty data comparing 2022 with 2021. The previous post incorrectly compared 2022 data with 2019 data.
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