Behind The Poverty Number: The 2014 American Community Survey Data & Three Cities

  ·  Anand Sharma and Megan Martin

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) released on September 16th, 46.7 million people, or 14.8 percent of the country, lived in poverty in 2014. (For more information and analysis, see Supporting Families in Deep Poverty, CSSP’s statement on the 2014 CPS). The 2014 CPS data disturbingly showed that more than 20 million people - almost 45 percent of the poor - are living in “deep poverty”, families whose household income is less than half of the federal poverty line. For a family of three in 2014, deep poverty equated to living with an annual income below $9,425. Families living in deep poverty are more likely to remain poor year after year than other poor people, and face multiple, persistent challenges. Further, large racial and ethnic disparities continue to exist for families who lives in poverty, as Black and Hispanic or Latino families continue to experience disproportionally higher rates of both poverty and deep poverty than White families.

While the national data provide an important window into poverty and well-being in the U.S., it is often difficult to understand the data in terms of its community impact. Poverty rates in communities can vary significantly from the rate for the country as a whole. Importantly, the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS) data, which was released today, provides us with a more detailed look at how families are faring economically in different parts of the country.

CSSP believes that place matters and strongly impacts a wide range of factors, such as health and safety and access to quality educational and employment opportunities that are crucial to the well-being of children and their families. Our work allows us the chance to partner with communities across the nation that are striving to overcome significant challenges due to years of disinvestment and neglect. For these reasons, we used the 2014 ACS data to take a closer look at deep poverty in three cities - Baltimore, Fresno and Indianola - and who is most likely to experience it.[i] These three cities, along with others across the country, are taking a more comprehensive approach to addressing challenges to child and family well-being through initiatives like Promise Neighborhoods and the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program.

Baltimore, Maryland is home to Promise Heights, an FY12 federal Promise Neighborhoods planning grantee focused on building a cradle-to-career pipeline of programs, services, and supports for the young people living in the Upton/Druid Heights community. Baltimore faced a poverty rate of 23.6 percent in 2014. While recent conversations about racial justice in Baltimore have focused on the relationship between the city’s police department and the communities it is serving, what has received less scrutiny are the racial disparities with respect to deep poverty. In Baltimore, 13.7 percent of Blacks, compared with 7.3 percent of Whites were in deep poverty, with incomes below 50 percent of the federal poverty line during 2014.

Fresno, California is one of four cities participating in the federal Building Neighborhood Capacity Program, an inter-agency initiative that seeks to catalyze community-driven change in neighborhoods that have historically faced barriers to revitalization. Last year in Fresno both the poverty and deep poverty rates were more than twice the national rates at 30.5 percent and 14.1, respectively. Here too the burdens of poverty disproportionately impacted people of color, with 16.2 percent of the Hispanic or Latino population living in deep poverty compared with 8.2 percent of Whites.

Indianola, Mississippi is home to the Indianola Promise Community, one of only two federal Promise Neighborhoods implementation grantees that are working to link schools, other educational opportunities, and health and support services for children and families in a rural setting. The poverty rate in Indianola is more than twice the national poverty rate, 36.1 percent. While Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the country, even within the state there are significant disparities across racial lines – in Indianola, 43.9 percent of Blacks lived in poverty compared with 11.7 percent of Whites. Even greater disparities exist when looking at deep poverty, with 19.1 percent of Blacks living below 50 percent of the poverty line - a figure that is more than five times higher than the comparable rate, 3.4 percent, for Whites.


The ACS data released today offers a powerful tool for developing a more nuanced understanding of how poverty is experienced in different communities across our nation. It also reveals important disparities in rates of poverty by different racial and ethnic groups who live within the same community. These data should be used to help craft smarter policies and provide greater access to benefits and resources for the families - particularly those living in deep poverty - who are most in need.

[i] A note about the data used in this statement: Data for “Fresno City, California” and “Baltimore City, Maryland” were accessed from the 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Data for the “Indianola, MS Micro Area” were accessed from the 2009 – 2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, the latest data set for which the specified data points were available. “Black” references ACS data for individuals who identified themselves as “Black or African American”; “Hispanic or Latino” references data for individuals who identified themselves as “Hispanic or Latino origin (of any race)”; and “White” references data for individuals who identified themselves as “White alone, not Hispanic or Latino”.