A closer look at the US drop in poverty

Jay Owen Beyond GDP

The COVID-19 pandemic has rattled and rejiggered every aspect of the U.S. economy over the past year and a half. Millions of low-income Americans lost their jobs during the lockdowns, ensuring upheaval, and yet early estimates indicate that fewer Americans were living in poverty in 2020 than a year earlier.

Elena Delavega, who researches and teaches about social welfare policies at the University of Memphis, puts several seemingly contradictory statistics into context. Some 10.3 million Americans at least hovered above the poverty line “because the government stepped up, strengthening the safety net,” she writes. At the same time, she encourages readers not to get “too excited” since the way this country monitors and measures poverty has many shortcomings.

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Emily Schwartz Greco

Philanthropy + Nonprofits Editor


Food insecurity appears to have grown in 2020 despite the decline in poverty. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Safety net policies are helping reduce the number of Americans below the poverty line – but that’s not the whole story

Elena Delavega, University of Memphis

Early estimates US poverty rate estimates indicate that policies intended to soften the blow of economic upheaval made a big difference.


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Charles Bell, Illinois State University

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Michael Kurtz, Lycoming College

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