Americans living at the bottom of the income distribution often struggle to meet their basic needs on very limited incomes, even with the added assistance of government programs. The following analyses describe the characteristics of the poor population; available income for those at the deepest levels of poverty; and average medical care needs among those living in poor and deep poor families (meaning those with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty threshold)2. The brief concludes with implications for medical cost sharing among those with few resources available. Analyses are restricted to those under the age of 65 and those in families headed by an adult under age 65.

Who are the People Living in Poverty and Deep Poverty?

According to the most recent data from 2013, the official poverty rate is 14.5 percent of the population, with 45.3 million people officially poor. Among the poor, 19.9 million people are in deep poverty, defined as income below 50 percent of the poverty threshold. Of the total U.S. population, 6.3 percent are in deep poverty. Nearly 6.5 million children under the age of 18 are in deep poverty, making up about one-third of the deep poverty population.

Table 1 describes the demographic and economic characteristics of the population in poverty by depth of poverty.

  • Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of working age adults with family incomes below 50 percent of the poverty threshold are adults that live with no children, while over one-third (36 percent) live in households with children.
  • Among working age adults with family incomes between 50 and 100 percent of the poverty threshold, about one-third (33-34 percent) work part-time or part-year, compared with one-quarter (26 percent) of those with family incomes below 50 percent of poverty.
  • Looking at those in deep poverty, for adults with family incomes between 25 and 50 percent of poverty, about half report no work hours, and for those with incomes below 25 percent of poverty, 81 percent report no work hours. Working age adults in deep poverty report illness or disability (23 percent), taking care of their family (27 percent), and attending school (21 percent) as the main reasons why they are not working.4
  • Just above the poverty threshold, more than half (57 percent) of uninsured adults ages 19 to 64 who could gain Medicaid coverage (between 100 and 138 percent of poverty) work, and nearly three out of four (72 percent) live in a family with at least one worker.5

Read more at ASPE