Census Bureau Shows Poverty Decreasing Across U.S., But W.Va. Lags Behind

Sep 16, 2019

The U.S. Census Bureau released data last week that showed the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line went down for the first time since the Great Recession of 2008. 

Overall, the number of people living in poverty, nationwide, decreased by half a percentage point from 2017 to 2018 covering nearly 1.5 million people.

“We saw some really good news that for the fourth straight year in a row, poverty went down in the United States. But it remains unacceptable that 38 million people still live below the poverty line,” said Amelia Kegan, the Legislative Director on Domestic Policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

The national poverty line is set at about $25,400 for a family of four. The U.S. poverty rate stands at 11.8 percent. But West Virginia is still lagging behind. 

“West Virginia ranked number four when we're looking at poverty rates over 2017 and 2018. And so, it is significantly above the national average of a two year average of about 16.5%,” Kegan said. 

Two of the most powerful anti-poverty programs are the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit, preventing 7.9 million people from falling into poverty, including 4.2 million children according to Kegan. Another vital tool is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. 

“The data also showed that the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, prevented about 3 million people from falling into poverty back in 2018,” she said. 

More than 340,000 people in West Virginia receive SNAP benefits each month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The participation varies by parts of the state, however. In the first congressional district, about 13 percent of all households receive SNAP. 

In the second congressional district, about 15 percent of households receive SNAP benefits. In the third congressional district, that number climbs to 22 percent of all households.