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Original poverty status (PUMS original)

Codes and Frequencies

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POVERTY is an intervalled poverty variable reported in the original CPS PUMS. The POVERTY variable is located on the person record, although it treats respondents who live in families collectively. It compares the Census family's total income for the previous calendar year as reported in FTOTVAL to the poverty threshold as reported in CUTOFF and assigns all members of each CPS-identified family unit, not each household, the same value. POVERTY is also calculated for adults living as unrelated individuals (For more on Census families see FTYPE and FAMREL. This is a different definition from IPUMS-derived families as in FAMUNIT).

In accordance with the Office of Management and Budget's Directive 14, the CPS and the Census Bureau use the definition of poverty originally developed by the Social Security Administration in 1964, later modified by federal interagency committees in 1969 and 1980. The core of this definition is the 1961 economy food plan, the least costly of four nutritionally adequate food plans designed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A 1955 USDA study determined that families of three or more persons spend about one-third of their income for food, so the poverty level for these families is set at three times the cost of the 1961 economy food plan. For smaller families and unrelated individuals, the multiplier is higher, since these people generally spend a smaller proportion of their income for food. For a more detailed discussion, see U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P-60, No. 171, Poverty in the United States: 1988 and 1989. See also the IPUMS CPS variable CUTOFF.

User Caution: Users looking to replicate official poverty rates should restrict the poverty universe to all persons except for secondary individuals under 14 for 1969-1979 and all persons except for secondary individuals under 15 for 1980 and on. To facilitate this, IPUMS-CPS has made available OFFPOVUNIV. Refer to the notes Replicating Official Poverty for further information.


For 1968-1975, POVERTY includes three categories: "N/A," "below poverty," and "not below poverty." Beginning in 1976, every person in the sample receives a value for POVERTY, and the "N/A" category is dropped. For 1976 and later years, more specific categories replace "not below poverty": "100-124% of the low-income level," "125-149% of the low income level," and "150% and above the low-income level."

Comparability with IPUMS-USA

The original PUMS samples for censuses prior to 1990 did not include a poverty variable. IPUMS-USA created POVERTY values for the 1950-1980 and 2000 census samples using the 1990 poverty thresholds, adjusted for the changing value of the dollar using the Consumer Price Index. The POVERTY values in IPUMS-CPS are those included in the Census Bureau's public use samples of the ASEC CPS. They are based on the poverty threshold prevailing in each year of the survey.


  • 1968-1975: All persons except for secondary individuals under 14.
  • 1976-2023: All persons.


Years Jan Feb ASEC Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1968 – 2023 - - X - - - - - - - - -


This variable has no flags.

Unharmonized Variables