The end of key U.S. public assistance measures pushed millions of people into poverty in 2022

Economic relief measures enacted in response to the pandemic strengthened the U.S. social safety net and made a historic dent on poverty in 2021. New Census Bureau data show that the expiration of these key programs caused a significant increase in poverty last year, with the number of children in poverty more than doubling.

Bold policy initiatives such as economic impact/stimulus payments and the expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) helped to shelter millions of people from poverty during a time of social and economic uncertainty at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Census Bureau’s most accurate measure of poverty—the Supplemental Poverty Measure—showed that poverty declined by more than 30% between 2019 and 2021, reaching a historic low of 7.8% in 2021. During the same three-year period, child poverty declined by more than half, reaching a historic low of 5.2% in 2021. Importantly, gains during this period were observed across all racial and ethnic groups.

New poverty data for 2022 show that all these gains in poverty reduction have now disappeared. More than 40 million people in 2022 fell below the poverty line, an increase of over 15 million (see Figure A). The substantial weakening of welfare state programs that had protected families from economic deprivation in 2021 resulted in poverty increases across all major racial and ethnic groups last year, further deepening the disadvantages of historically marginalized individuals and families.

Poverty rose significantly in 2022: Number of all people and children in poverty (in millions), 2019–2022


All Children
2019 38.30 9.253
2020 30.04 7.196
2021 25.58 3.829
2022 40.90 8.98
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