Poverty rates are an important indicator of what portion of a community’s population likely lacks the necessary resources to provide for themselves or their families. The most widely used measure of poverty is the federal poverty rate, which is the percentage of all people who are living in households with incomes that fall below the federal poverty line. The poverty line is established based on the current cost of basic goods and services (such as food, housing, transportation, and other goods and services), and what proportion of family income is spent on those items. While the threshold is adjusted over time and is dependent on family size and ages of family members, it is increasingly thought to understate the extent of poverty. The threshold in 2015 was $15,930 for a two person household – a very low level of income given that a low-cost one-bedroom apartment in western Massachusetts will typically rent for more than $8,800 per year.
Because the federal poverty line is so low and generally misses a large portion of the population who are in economic distress, this indicator measures the percentage of the population living below 200% of that line. Poverty rates are calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau based on the income and number of people in each household.
One out of every three people in the Pioneer Valley live in households with incomes below 200% of the poverty line. Across the region, that rate remained relatively stable, increasing only slightly from 33.7% in 2014 to 33.8% in 2015. However, the trend varied by county, with Franklin County residents experiencing a large decrease of 7.1%, Hampshire County residents experiencing an increase of 6.6%, and and Hampden County remaining stable with just a slight decrease of 0.4%.