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University of Wisconsin–Madison
Poverty-related issues in the news, from the Institute for Research on Poverty

Day: November 14, 2011

Supplemental Poverty Measure

  • Poverty’s new faces: Where to draw the line?, By Rick Montgomery, November 12, 2011, Kansas City Star: “For nearly half a century, the U.S. government has based poverty levels on a simple formula that nearly all experts consider outdated: Calculate the lowest annual cost of keeping a family fed, then multiply by three to cover other basic needs. For the new poor – such as Amber Vieux, 28, who once earned $19 an hour – grocery bills often aren’t the main problem. Her son won’t go hungry, she’ll make sure of that. What has thrown the nursing student into the assistance line, a place Vieux never imagined being, are the other bills: Day care for her 4-year-old, $575 a month. Mandatory health premiums to study and work part-time at KU Med Center, $350 for half a year. Car payment, fuel and insurance, $600 a month or more. The rent. Utilities. Internet access and her cellphone plan, without which she’d be isolated from the modern world…”
  • New Poverty Measure: More accurate account of income and benefits still shows growing need, Editorial, November 13, 2011, Syracuse Post-Standard: “For years, economists and others have been arguing that the way the nation counts its poor is outdated. For one thing, the measure put in place in the 1960s overemphasizes the cost of feeding the average family, which has shrunk from one-third to one-seventh of household resources. For another, while the old measure factors in welfare payments, it doesn’t take into account more widely used ‘safety net’ programs like food stamps that aim to rescue many families from the cruelest burdens of poverty. This year, for the first time, the U.S. Census Bureau has adopted a ‘Supplemental Poverty Measure’ that takes into account those safety net programs. It doesn’t replace the ‘official’ poverty measure – that’s still needed to determine safety net eligibility – but it paints a more realistic portrait of poverty in America…”
  • Editorial: New data offer a fuller picture of life for America’s poor, Editorial, November 9, 2011, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “The flaws built into the Census Bureau’s official estimates of poverty in the United States never have been a secret. Specialists in the economics of poverty – non-profit service organizations, public service officials, academics, statisticians, even the Census Bureau itself – recognized the inadequacies of the oversimplified estimates almost from the moment they were developed in the 1960s. But on Monday, the bureau released a report describing a new Supplemental Poverty Measure that addresses many of the longstanding imperfections in the official estimates…”
  • Measuring poverty, Editorial, November 12, 2011, Boston Herald: “The Census Bureau has worked up a new measure of poverty that for the first time takes into account facts in the real world – today’s world particularly. Now we can only hope it will improve official decision-making and public discussion. The official measure, which still will be used and is incorporated in scores of federal laws, was produced in 1964 to measure progress in President Lyndon Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty.’ An economist in the Social Security Administration noted that the Agriculture Department estimated that families of three or more spent one-third of their income on food, so therefore, the poverty level for those families was set at three times their food expenses. It’s been adjusted for inflation but not otherwise changed, even though families now spend about a seventh of their income of food…”