What Is a Poverty Line Chart?

The federal poverty line chart is an income classification tool used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to identify eligibility for assistance programs. Poverty levels are associated with income, the number of people in a household and several other factors.

Alaska and Hawaii have different poverty line charts because they have a significantly higher cost of living. As of 2015, the income levels for the poverty lines are calculated as pre-tax income that is three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963. The formula uses the Consumer Price Index to calculate and adjust for the impact of inflation on food and other household expenses. Some variables included in the equation are family size, composition and age of the householder.

The U.S. Census Bureau issues an annual poverty report in the fall; the Department of Health and Human Services uses this report to create the poverty line chart. When determining program eligibility, many departments use a percentage multiplier to set acceptable levels, such as 125 or 150 percent of the poverty line. Some of the programs that use the poverty line chart include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Job Corps, Low-Income Energy Assistance and the National School Lunch Program.