In a move that might have major long term consequences, the US Census Department has released alternative measures of poverty. As most of you probably know, the current measures date to the 60s, and fail to reflect changes in government benefit programs and the structures of the cost of living. The current measures are not being replaced.
However, according to the AP story running in the Boston Globe, “[t]he new numbers will not replace the official poverty rate but will be published alongside the traditional figure this fall as a “supplement’’ for federal agencies and state governments to determine antipoverty policies.”
As to the overall numbers: “Under a new revised census formula, overall poverty in 2009 stood at 15.7 percent, or 47.8 million people. That’s compared to the official 2009 rate of 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million, that was reported by the Census Bureau in September”
As to the differential impact: “Across all demographic groups, Americans 65 and older sustained the largest increases in poverty under the revised formula — nearly doubling to 16.1 percent. As a whole, working-age adults 18 to 64 also saw increases in poverty, as well as whites and Hispanics. Children, blacks, and unmarried couples were less likely to be considered poor under the new measure.”
Moreover, “[d]ue to new adjustments for geographical variations in costs of living, people residing in the suburbs, the Northeast, and West were the regions mostly likely to have poor people — nearly 1 in 5 in the West.”
This has major implications for understanding our programs, and for federal funding.
One long term and very sensitive question is what impact this should have on national funding distribution formulae for programs like LSC. There is certainly a strong argument that distributing money solely on the basis of an outmoded poverty formula does not accurately reflect need.
Here is the Census Press release.
Here are the cool tools that you can use to generate your own poverty tables