Parsing the Poverty Numbers: The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM)
Concerns about the official poverty measure have resulted in some Congressional action and efforts by the National Academy of Sciences to develop a more accurate measure. The Supplemental Poverty Measure, or SPM, is not intended to replace the official measure. Rather, it is designed to provide information on aggregate levels of economic need and should be considered an additional macroeconomic statistic that provides further understanding of economic conditions and trends. The SPM extends the information provided by the official poverty measure by including many of the government programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals that are not included in the current official poverty measure. These include food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The SPM also employs a new poverty threshold that is updated with information on expenses for food, clothing, shelter, and utilities.
The SPM yielded a national poverty rate of 16 percent for 2011, about one percentage point more than the official rate – identifying an additional 3 million people. But there are some substantial differences for some groups. The SPM is higher for foreign-born and older Americans, Asians, Hispanics, married couples, and Whites. The SPM is lower than the official rate for individuals with only public health insurance, those under age 18, Blacks, and people living outside of metropolitan areas. More information on the work being done by the U.S. Census Bureau on alternative poverty measures is available at http://www.census.gov/hhes/povmeas/. // Richard J. Coley
(Adapted from Richard J. Coley and Bruce Baker, Poverty and Education: Finding the Way Forward, ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education, July 2013.)