Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the difference between poverty thresholds and guidelines?

Poverty thresholds are the dollar amounts used by the U.S. Census Bureau to determine poverty status.  Each person or family is assigned one out of 48 possible poverty thresholds which vary according to the size of the family and the ages of the members.  The same thresholds are used throughout the United States.  Poverty thresholds are updated annually for inflation by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).  Although the poverty thresholds in some sense reflect families needs, they are intended for use as a statistical yardstick, not as a complete description of what people and families need to live.

The Department of Health and Human Services also issues Poverty Guidelines that are the other version of the federal poverty measure.  These guidelines are a simplification of the poverty thresholds used for administrative purposes, i.e.,  determining financial eligibility for certain federal programs.  They also vary by family size.  There is one set of figures for the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington, DC.  



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