>In 2017, 12.3 percent of the population—39.7 million people—lived in poverty, as defined by the official poverty measure [i]. The share of the population living in poverty was statistically significantly lower in 2017 than in 2016 by 0.4 percentage points.
The U.S. Census Bureau is tasked with determining how many people in the United States were living in poverty each year according to the official poverty measure. The official poverty measure has applied the same formula since the 1960s to determine whether a family is below the poverty threshold: a household’s pre-tax income must be less than the current value of three times a minimum food diet in 1963 (adjusted for family composition). Using ASEC data, I describe the characteristics of those living in poverty, as well as the characteristics of the working-age poor and those working-age poor who were employed less than full-time year-round using the same methods as previous reports.
Figure 1 shows that about a third of those living in poverty in 2017 were children, about an eighth were senior citizens, and more than half were working-age (18- to 64-year-olds) adults.
There were a few notable shifts in the composition of who is poor from 2016 to 2017, including among working-age labor force participants (-1.1 percentage points change in share of those living in poverty) and children (-.4 percentage points change in share). By contrast, students (+.6 percentage points), seniors (+.5 percentage points), and early retirees (+.4 percentage points) all became slightly larger portions of the total population living in poverty.