About Federal Poverty Measures

Census Bureau Poverty Thresholds

The poverty thresholds are the original version of the federal poverty measure.  They are updated each year by the Census Bureau.  The thresholds are used mainly for statistical purposes — for instance, preparing estimates of the number of Americans in poverty each year.  (In other words, all official poverty population figures are calculated using the poverty thresholds, not the guidelines.) Poverty thresholds since 1973 (and for selected earlier years) and weighted average poverty thresholds since 1959 are available on the Census Bureau’s website. 

Census Bureau Annual Poverty Thresholds

HHS Poverty Guidelines

The poverty guidelines are the other version of the federal poverty measure. They are issued each year in the  Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The guidelines are a simplification of the poverty thresholds for use for administrative purposes — for instance, determining financial eligibility for certain federal programs.  The poverty guidelines are sometimes loosely referred to as the “federal poverty level” (FPL), but that phrase is ambiguous and should be avoided, especially in situations (e.g., legislative or administrative) where precision is important.

2015 HHS Poverty Guidelines