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Stimulus checks and unemployment benefits lowered poverty in 2020, Census says

People wait in line at a food distribution site in the South Bronx on March 10, 2021 in New York.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Poverty declined in 2020 by one measure following large amounts of federal aid enacted due to the coronavirus pandemic, including stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits.

The so-called supplemental poverty rate, which adds in government assistance to low-income individuals, declined to 9.1% in 2020 from 11.8% in the previous year, according to a Tuesday report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

It’s the lowest since this particular statistic was first published in 2009. The poverty threshold for a family of four in 2020 was income below $26,496.

To be sure, the official poverty rate, which does not include any government aid, increased slightly to 11.4% in 2020 from a record low of 10.5% in 2019, according to the Census Bureau.

Still, the fall in the supplemental rate means that government aid put in place during the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic recession – the worst since the Great Depression – lifted millions of Americans out of poverty last year.

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What programs lifted Americans out of poverty

A few key programs had the greatest impact on the supplemental poverty rate last year, the Census Bureau found.

The first two economic impact payments, which included $1,200 stimulus checks to millions of Americans last year, brought 11.7 million people out of poverty, the Census estimated.

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