The Census Bureau has rolled out the results of applying its alternative measure of poverty to 2010. This alternative measure, which will not be used to calculate benefits, is being offered as an aid to policy makers.
The results have obvious implications for access to justice programs and planning. As reported by the New York Times:
The new assessment was developed primarily to give policy makers a sense of the effect that social safety-net programs are having, said Kathleen Short, a Census Bureau official who presented the measure on Monday at a conference at the Brookings Institution. It also includes costs like child care, out-of-pocket medical expenses and taxes, which erode income for those above the poverty line, greatly expanding the ranks of the near poor, whom the safety net does not reach.
- A smaller number of children are reported in poverty (3.2 million reduction, not an insignificant number),
- More seniors are reported in poverty because of medical costs,
- The number of people in the 100% to 200% of poverty group is very high — it is now one third of Americans! (Adding the 16% in poverty, that means that almost half get less than 200% of the poverty level.)
- The number of people who earn less than four times the poverty level rose — is is now 83% of the population (that would be $93,373 for a family of four).
While LSC regulations (Section 1611.5) provide some flexibility in taking into account unusual costs and circumstances, these numbers highlight the importance of programs having structures in place that take advantage of this flexibility.
The increasing numbers of low resourced middle income people similarly highlight the ever-growing need for programs that serve this population, either for free, or through innovations that reduce costs such as unbundling or law school incubators. Indeed, I am coming to believe that the creation of market and modified market strategies for meeting middle income need is critical for access to justice, and that our failure to do any more than middle at the edges is at the core of the access failure. We forget how many people move between poverty and middle income status.
I would particularly urge access commissions to look at the implications of these numbers for their overall state plans.
Updating Note: Because of an editing and layout error, it was not necessarily fully clear in the initial version of this post (which was distributed automatically by e-mail) that the italicized material is a direct quote from the New York Times. We apologize for the error.