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Ratio of family income to poverty threshold

Codes and Frequencies

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For sample adults and sample children, POVERTY reports the ratio of family income to the U.S. Census Bureau's poverty thresholds for the year in question. Prior to 2019, POVERTY was reported for all persons. The poverty status of a family group is assigned to each member of the family, thus making POVERTY a person-level variable. The ratio of income to the poverty threshold is also calculated for adults who live alone or with persons they are not related to; in such cases, POVERTY is based on the individual's income.

Values for POVERTY range from less than half of the poverty threshold for a family of a given size and age structure (i.e., with a given number of children under 18) to five or more times the poverty threshold for a family of a given size and age structure. For families where the number of children under age 18 in the family is equivalent to the number of family members, family income is presumed to be nonexistent, and the ratio of such nonexistent income to the poverty line is undefinable (with a code of 98 in POVERTY).

The ratio of family income to the official poverty threshold in POVERTY is available only for 1997 forward. The dichotomous variable POORYN, which distinguishes persons with family income at or above the poverty threshold from persons with family income below the poverty threshold, is available for 1982 forward. For detailed discussion of the basis of the Census Bureau's official poverty thresholds, users should consult the variable description for POORYN.


The NHIS questionnaire was substantially redesigned in 2019 to introduce a different data collection structure and new content. Family-level content is now collected within the sample adult and/or sample child questionnaire. If both the sample adult and sample child are in the same family, family-level content can be collected in either questionnaire. If they are in different families, the family-level content is asked in both questionnaires. For more information on changes in terminology, universes, and data collection methods beginning in 2019, please see the user note.


  • 1997-2018: All persons.
  • 2019-2022: Sample adults age 18+ and sample children ages 0-17.


  • 1997-2022