Census Bureau Develops a More Accurate Poverty Measure

The Census Bureau announced yesterday that it will be developing a supplementary poverty measure that will provide a fuller, more accurate picture of economic trends and poverty in the United States.  The new measure will be released in the fall of 2011.

A poverty threshold is the minimum level of income deemed necessary to achieve an adequate standard of living. Those making less than this level are considered to be living in poverty.  The official poverty level for a family of four is $22,756.

When the official poverty measure was developed in the 1960s, food constituted one-third of a family’s budget. Today, food amounts to around one-seventh of an average family’s budget, as the costs of housing, childcare, and health care have all risen disproportionately.  The supplementary measure will take into account other factors that affect a family’s income, such as household expenses and work expenses, as well as the impact of anti-poverty policies and geographic differences in the cost of living.  It will not replace the official measure, which will still be used to administer federal programs. 

Civil rights and anti-poverty advocates, who have long pushed for a better official poverty measure, praised the new development, saying that the new measure will give policymakers a better sense of whether or not a family can meet its basic needs.

“Better data drives better policymaking,” said Melissa Boteach, manager of the Half in Ten campaign, a campaign designed to build the public will to cut poverty in half in 10 years.  “If the old adage, ‘what gets measured gets done’ is true, this development gives both anti-poverty advocates and proponents of smart government cause for hope.”

Development of the supplemental measure was based on the widely supported 1995 recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences.

Want to learn more about the supplemental poverty measure?  Watch this video from Half in Ten: