[Click to view ‘Poverty in Black America 2014 – Updated’ or view older data below]

According to the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey The poverty rate for all African Americans in 2012 was 28.1% which is an increase from 25.5% in 2005.  Actually the poverty rate increased between 2005 and 2012 for every demographic of African Americans except those ages 65 and over who experienced a decrease from 21.2% to 19%. Black families with children under 18 headed by a single mother have the highest rate of poverty at 47.5 compared to only 8.4% percent of married-couple Black families.

Black Poverty 2012 Statistics chart[Click to view 2014 Black Poverty Charts for Families and individuals (new chart and data table)]


The U.S. Census Bureau recorded the historical decrease in poverty among people in African American families using its the Current Population Survey and the Annual Social and Economic Supplements (below). More than half of all people in Black families (54.9%) and 70% of people in Black families headed by single mothers were living in poverty in 1959.  Black poverty rates reached their lowest levels in 2000  (38.6% and 21.2% respectively) just before the dot com bubble burst of 2000. Black poverty rates have been slowly increasing since reaching 25.7% for all people in Black families and 41.2% for people in Black families headed by single mothers. (statistics may not match other reports due to different calculation methods of different surveys).

 Historical Poverty Chart of People in Black Families

[Click to view New Historical Poverty Charts from 1967 to 2014 for Black families & Single parent Black families (chart and data table)]

Public Assistance

The amount of African Americans who receive public assistance varies greatly depending on the type of assistance. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 11.5% of African Americans live in government housing or section 8 housing while 13.6% receive TANF cash assistance (formerly referred to as welfare checks). Just over 25% of African Americans receive SNAP benefits formerly known as Food Stamps. All of these statistics include those who actually receive the assistance and those who live with them. The largest benefit received by Blacks is Medicaid health insurance which mostly consists of children.

2009 public assistance chart 2

[Click to view Updated percentage statistics and chart of 2012 African American Public Assistance Participation]

Despite running stereotypes that associate African Americans as being the primary consumers of the SNAP program formerly known as and commonly referred to as the Food Stamp program, White Americans are actually the primary benefactors of this program. In 2013 there were 5.9 million African American households participating in SNAP/Food Stamps (25%) compared to 9.1 million White households who make up 40% of total households using SNAP/Food Stamps. However, when adjusted for population Black households do use SNAP/Food Stamps at a higher rate. This also means that contrary to similar stereotypical narratives the majority of Black households do not use SNAP/Food Stamps. About 41.5% of Black households were using SNAP/Food Stamps in 2013 compared to 19.6% of all households and 11.4 percent of White households. (SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, Fiscal Year 2013 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Quality Control sample)

2013 Food Stamp by race chart

What is Poverty

(by Shandira Pavelcik)

As of 2009, 43.6 million Americans are living in poverty. The official poverty threshold is $21,756 annually for families having two adults and two children (family of 4). That threshold increases based on a family paying for food, clothing, shelter, utilities and medical expenditures, in which it is raised to a threshold rate of $29,602.(2009). For African Americans, the poverty rate increased in 2009 to 25.8%, 9.9 million. The unemployment rate for Blacks in America is at 2.9 million and is 16% of the total unemployment statistics. However, only persons that are actively seeking employment are counted in that rate.

According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that supplies data to the U.S. Census Bureau: If a family’s total income is less than the family’s threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered in poverty. People and families are classified as being in poverty if their income is less than their poverty threshold. If their income is less than half their poverty threshold, they are below 50% of poverty; less than the threshold itself, they are in poverty (below 100% of poverty); less than 1.25 times the threshold, below 125% of poverty, and so on. The greater the ratio of income to poverty, the more people fall under the category, because higher ratios include more people with higher incomes.

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