Poverty and income levels are important to public health

We know that people living in poverty experience higher rates of some diseases. For example, low-income populations have more emergency department visits and hospitalizations for asthma than the general population. In some cases, these health disparities may be due to differences in health behaviors, access to care, medications and preventive health services. Research shows that low socioeconomic status also increases the chance that a person's health is threatened by environmental conditions. People living in poverty are more likely to live in areas with poor quality housing, have less access to healthy foods, or live in close proximity to traffic and crowding. For example, poverty is a risk factor for a young child to have lead poisoning due to exposure to lead-based paint in the home.

Understanding the impact of poverty and income on public health is necessary for understanding how diseases can be prevented and is a priority for public health practitioners.

For more information on health outcomes linked to poverty, see: 

What is poverty? 

Poverty includes a family's income, size, and composition (such as the number of children), and has both immediate and long-term effects on health.

Poverty can be defined in several ways. The method used on these poverty webpages compares a family's annual household income to a set of federal poverty thresholds. The federal poverty thresholds are determined by the U.S. Census Bureau and calculated using a family's household size and composition, such as the householder's age and number of related children. If a household income is less than their poverty threshold, then every person living in that household is considered to be in poverty.

To learn more about the official poverty thresholds and alternative ways to measure poverty, see About the poverty & income data.

To learn more about poverty threshold calculations and to view the full set of thresholds by year, go to the U.S. Census Bureau's poverty webpage.