Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010: Consumer Income
How the United States government measures levels of poverty has changed little since the bureaucracy began making official estimates in the 1960s. Many observers have noted that the official statistical model has not kept up with the times: for example, it does not take fully into account rising medical costs, and it uses a multiplier of food costs as an index by which to set the official poverty income line for households. (Food costs have shrunk historically as part of the family budget.)
A new model being employed by the government on a working basis, called the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), incorporates a host of significant shifts in family income and expenses (including rising core expenses standards of living, and geographic variations in expenses not reflected in official poverty level calculations.) The U.S. Census Bureau issued official poverty figures in September 2011 employing the older model, which remains the standard by which eligibility for government programs will be determined. (See this article for further explanation.)
A November 2011 research brief by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau, “Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010: Consumer Income” (PDF), uses the new statistical model to evaluate the prevalence of poverty both in the general population and in a range of demographic subgroups (age, race, location, household size). The report also examines the impact of several government programs on reducing poverty levels as determined by both the long-standing official method and the proposed SPM.
Key study findings include:
- Overall, this means 49 million Americans live in poverty, an increase from the figure of 46.2 million reflected in the earlier 2011 Census numbers (calculated according to the older official formula.) This new measure puts the percentage of those in poverty at 16%, as opposed to the official number of 15.1%. The SPM guidelines put the poverty level at $24,343 for a family of four, compared with $22,113 under the older model.
- Of all those in poverty, the numbers expanded for those of working age — those between the ages of 18 and 65 — made up 59.5% of people in poverty (in contrast to 56.3% under official measures). Moreover, the percentage of residents 65 and older in poverty also rose using this new method of calculation, from 7.6% to 12.7%.
- “For most groups, SPM rates are higher than official poverty rates. Comparing the SPM to the official measure shows lover poverty rates for … the poverty rates for children under 18, African-Americans, renters, those living outside major metropolitan areas, residents of the Midwest and South, and those covered by public health insurance.”
- Poverty levels increased for residents of the U.S. Northeast (+1%) and West (+4.6%), and declined for those in the South (-2.2%) and Midwest (-3.5%) when SPM rates were compared to the older official poverty rates.
- Under SPM, government household resources such as the Earned income Tax Credit and SNAP lifted nearly 2% of recipients out of poverty; programs such as the Medical Out of Pocket (MOOP) expenditures, however, resulted in a 3.3% increase in the poverty rate due to the inclusion of MOOP-related expenses.
The report concludes that this new model “illustrates differences between the official measure of poverty and a poverty measure that takes account of in-kind benefits received by families and non-discretionary expenses that they must pay.”
Tags: poverty, inequality, campaign issue
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the U.S. Census and U.S. Department of Commerce study titled "Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010: Consumer Income."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related Huffington Post article titled "U.S. Poverty: Record 49.1 Million Americans Are Poor According To New Census Measures."
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. For example, does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties (e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members) and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.