Special Report

25 Facts of Life the Federal Poverty Rate Completely Ignores

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21. Accumulated debt

Because the official poverty rate only counts gross income, a major financial concern like debt is not considered. The total U.S. household debt was estimated at over $13 trillion as of 2018.

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22. Housing subsidies

Millions of low-income Americans every year receive assistance paying for their housing, including over 10 million who benefit from federal rental assistance. Housing subsidies are not included in the official poverty measure.

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23. Childcare expenses

For working parents, paying for child daycare can be a significant expense, particularly for low-income single parents who must work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Childcare costs are measured as part of the supplemental poverty rate but are not measured in the official federal poverty rate.

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24. National school lunch program

Close to 22 million low-income children benefit from the national school lunch program, which is not factored into the official poverty rate calculation.

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25. Personal happiness

Whether leisure time goods and services — gyms, museums, movies, vacations — should be included in the official poverty rate is up for debate, but would life be worth living without these expenses?