Has poverty changed over time?
In the late 1950s, the overall poverty rate for individuals in the United States was 22 percent, representing 39.5 million poor persons. Between 1959 and 1969, the poverty rate declined dramatically and steadily to 12.1 percent. As a result of a sluggish economy, the rate increased slightly to 12.5 percent by 1971. In 1972 and 1973, however, it began to decrease again. In 1973, the poverty rate was 11.1 percent. At that time roughly 23 million people were poor, 42 percent fewer than were poor in 1959.
In 1975 the poverty rate increased to 12.3 percent. It then oscillated around 11.5 percent for the next few years. After 1978, however, the rate rose steadily, reaching 15.2 percent in 1983. Thereafter it remained mostly higher than 13 percent. In 1993 it reached a new high of 15.1 percent, and then began to fall slowly. In 2000, 31 million people were poor (11.3 percent of the population). In 2001 the number of poor and the poverty rate both rose as economic difficulties moved into recession, reaching 32.9 million and 11.7 percent, respectively.