For Immediate Release: November 04, 2009

New Report Reveals Higher State Poverty Rates Based on Alternative Measure

State-by-State Report Calculates Poverty Based on Modern Measure

(Washington, D.C.) The percent of Americans living in poverty is higher than the current poverty measure captures, according to a new report that, for the first time, lists how poverty rates change in each state using a modern poverty measure. 

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) compiled the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) calculations of each state's poverty rate using a Census web tool and published these calculations in Measure by Measure: the Current Poverty Measure v. the National Academy of Sciences Measures.

"The current federal poverty measure is bereft in many ways," said Dorothy Smith, the report's author.  "It only considers the cost of food, but not other basic living expenses.  And it doesn't count other sources of income and programs designed to lift people out of poverty, such as tax credits and Food Stamps."

Measure by Measure provides each state and the District of Columbia two additional poverty rates using poverty measures based on NAS recommendations.  The NAS poverty measure captures median spending by a family of four on food, clothing, shelter and other needs.  Under this measure, income is broadly defined to include such non-cash resources as tax credits, and Food Stamps while subtracting expenses such as child care and medical expenses.  The second measure adds an adjustment for the geographic differences in the cost of housing.  

Some of the reports key findings:

  • Virtually all states' poverty rate increased when calculated under the NAS measure, ranging from 0.4% in Connecticut to 4.2% in South Carolina
  • When geographic differences in the cost of housing are considered, many states in the West and Northeast, where these costs are higher, have significantly higher rates of poverty than the current measure captures.
  • State poverty rankings change slightly when poverty rates are compared under the NAS measure. However, the rankings shift significantly when the measure is adjusted for differences in housing costs.

The report is timely given the interest in revising the federal poverty measure. Earlier this year, the Measuring American Poverty Act of 2009 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation would follow NAS recommendations to establish a new measure. In addition, advocates have long pushed for a modern measure.

"This report provides a hint of how poverty rates might change if a more comprehensive poverty measure was implemented."  Smith said.  "While a new poverty measure itself won't change the circumstances of Americans, it will better help policymakers and advocates understand the full dimensions of poverty at the national, state and local levels, and it can help inform policy decisions on how to tackle poverty."  

To read Measure by Measure, go to: http://www.clasp.org/admin/site/publications/files/measurebymeasure.pdf . To view a chart that lists each state's ranking based on the current poverty measure and the modernized, NAS measure, go to: http://www.clasp.org/issues/pages?type=poverty_and_opportunity&id=0002 .

 

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