In Focus

The federal government currently measures poverty in America using a method originally developed in 1963. Although our country’s economy has changed profoundly during the intervening decades, the criteria used to calculate who is living in poverty have not.

Povertymeasure.org, a special project of Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, provides a comprehensive look at alternatives to the current poverty measure. This site offers background on the federal poverty measure and the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), commentary, data and analysis on the issue, an overview of proposed Congressional legislation, and a look at local efforts to modernize the poverty measure.





The Latest

Census Bureau Releases Supplemental Poverty Measure Research
The Census Bureau released its second year of research on a new measure of poverty to complement the official measure, which has been in use since the 1960s. The official measure will continue to be produced every year and be used to assess eligibility for government programs and determine funding distribution. The SPM, on the other hand, is intended to better reflect contemporary social and economic realities and government policy effects and thus provide a further understanding of economic conditions and trends. This report presents estimates of the prevalence of poverty at the national level in 2011 -- overall and for selected demographic groups -- for both the official and supplemental measures.

Poverty Measurement: Federal Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM)

The Institute for Research on Poverty, in agreement with the U.S. DHHS ASPE and the Census Bureau, features a Supplemental Poverty Measure resource for researchers. The resource, updated frequently, contains numerous links to SPM-related research and resources.

Measuring Economic Mobility
A new video from the  Economic Mobility Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts animates the difference between absolute and relative measures of economic mobility, or the ability to move up and down the economic ladder. Each measure offers an understanding of the health and status of the American Dream; however, neither measure can be taken in isolation for a complete picture of economic mobility in America.

New Resources from the Census Bureau
The Census Bureau released two new resources on the supplemental poverty measure. The first is a set of research papers including, Who is Poor? A New Look with the Supplemental Poverty Measure. The second resources is alternative income and poverty estimates for 2009. 

Public Comments on SPM Proposal Available Online
The Census Bureau sought public comments on its proposal to develop a Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM is based on recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences and is expected to be released in the fall of 2011 alongside the current official poverty measure. The public comments are now available on the Census website.

Two Responses to Robert Samuelson's Column on the Poverty Measure
In a column for The Washington Post Robert J. Samuelson discussed how the Obama Administration’s development of a supplemental poverty measure was part of a political agenda designed to increase the poverty rate and promote income redistribution. In two separate commentaries, Michael Laracy, director of policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Jodie Levin-Epstein, deputy director of the Center for Law and Social Policy, respond arguing that the new poverty measure will paint a more accurate picture of our nation’s poor.Both commentaries were originally posted in The Huffington Post.

Listen to Two-Part Webinar Series on the Supplemental Poverty Measure
On April 14 and 21,Spotlight co-sponsored the first installment of a two-part webinar series on the supplemental poverty measure with the Brookings Center on Children and Families, the Half-in-Ten Campaign, the New America Foundation and the National League of Cities. The first webinar focused on why a new poverty measure is needed and how the supplemental poverty measure will compare to the official poverty measure. Speakers included Michael Laracy of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Arloc Sherman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Indivar Dutta-Gupta of the House Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support and Annette Case of Strategies to Eliminate Poverty.
To listen to part one of the webinar, click here.

Part two examined how the process of adopting a supplemental poverty measure will work. The webinar also discussed state and local efforts to implement more accurate measures of poverty. Speakers included Clifford Johnson of the National League of Cities, Rebecca M. Blank of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution and Mark Levitan of the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity.
To listen to part two of the webinar, click here

The New Republic: Budget 2011: More Data for Metros
"The current official poverty measure is based on 1950s household economics, excludes federal assistance, and doesn’t account for geographic cost-of-living differences. While the current measure will still be used to determine federal program eligibility, the new measure would give a realistic sense of poverty in various communities, based on what people spend for housing, childcare, and other essentials"
To read the article, click here.

Commerce Department Announces Development of Supplemental Poverty Measure
The Commerce Department announced plans to develop a Supplemental Poverty Measure to accompany the current official federal poverty measure. Although the supplemental measure will not be used to determine funding or eligibility for government programs, it is expected to help provide a more accurate picture of poverty in America. The supplemental measure will allow for additional factors such as food stamp benefits and the Earned Income Tax Credit, to be considered when estimating a family’s economic security. The new measure will be released in Fall 2011, alongside the official income and poverty measures for 2010. The announcement received nationwide media attention from several news outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post and National Public Radio.

Commentary: To Address Poverty, We Should Add Assets to the Equation
A new commentary by Reid Cramer, director of the Asset Building Program at the New America Foundation, argues that measuring household savings and assets must be a key component of any new poverty measure. According to Cramer, the current poverty measure fails to consider how assets affect a family’s ability to make ends meet. The author suggests that to adequately gauge poverty in America, an updated federal poverty measure must also calculate household savings and assets over time. The commentary is the latest contribution to Spotlight’s ‘Poor Measurement’ series, which has featured experts including Shawn Fremstad of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mark Levitan of the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity, and Diana Pearce of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work. Click here.