WASHINGTON – Massive government relief passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic moved millions of Americans out of poverty last year, even as the official poverty rate increased slightly, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
The official poverty measure rose 1 percentage point in 2020, with 11.4% of Americans living in poverty, or more than 37 million people. It was the first increase in poverty after five consecutive annual declines.
But the Census Bureau's supplemental measure of poverty, which takes into account government benefit programs and stimulus payments, showed that the share of people in poverty dropped significantly after the aid was factored in.
The supplemental poverty measure was 2.6 percentage points lower than its pre-pandemic level in 2019. Stimulus payments moved 11.7 million people out of poverty, while expanded unemployment benefits kept 5.5 million from falling into poverty. Social Security continued to be the nation's most effective anti-poverty program.
“The key takeaway from this report is the extremely powerful anti-poverty and pro-middle class income impacts of the government response in 2020,” White House spokeswoman Emilie Simons said.
The census reports released Tuesday cover income, poverty and health insurance, and amount to an annual check-up on the economic status of average Americans. They are based on extensive surveys and analysis.
No interference found in count
Outside experts found no evidence of political interference in the state-by-state population totals from the 2020 census used for divvying up congressional seats, but their limited review didn't include demographic data or places smaller than states, according to a task force report released Tuesday.
The task force was established by the American Statistical Association last year during the most difficult U.S. head count in recent memory due to the pandemic, natural disasters and attempted political interference from the Trump administration, which unsuccessfully tried to add a citizenship question to the census form and attempted to end field operations early.
The Census Bureau made the right call by delaying the release of the apportionment data until April so it could have more time reviewing and crunching the numbers, the report concluded.