Supplemental Poverty Measure May Be Coming This Fall

May 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

The Supplemental Poverty Measure may be coming this fall. That’s the very good news. The Obama Administration is taking action on recommendations made in 1995 to re-evaluate the measurements that establish poverty thresholds. The bad news is “the supplemental measure will not be the measure used to estimate eligibility for government programs. Instead, it will be an additional macroeconomic statistic, providing further understanding of economic conditions and trends,” according to the Commerce Department. In otherwords, it won’t change or improve  the way the guidelines are set any time soon. Guidelines, derived from the thresholds, as poor and low income people know, qualify families and individuals for poverty assistance .

It’s increasingly well documented that the poverty threshold is failing to adequately measure need. It was developed to be a research tool, much like the Supplemental Poverty Measure, not as a measure that qualifies poverty assistance. It’s a product of the sixties. Then, food was generally thought to be 1/3 of a family’s budget. That’s important today because poverty need is determined by multiplying the cost of a sample economy food basket by three.  Have you wondered why that poverty level is so low? Food, for families in need in 2007, was approx 10% of a family budget , according to the Congressional Research Service.  Multiply a basket of today’s food by three and you come up short of describing a family’s need.

Congress called for a reevaluation of the measurements in 1992 and received recommendations three years later. But government failed to act on those critical changes until the Obama Administration.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure is a big step, a long overdue step, in the right direction. It’s understandable that a government trying to reform it’s poverty assistence criteria would need to take a cautious approach and gather verifiable information, but we hope it won’t be long before the new measure becomes the official measure. The 60’s are gone. The 50 year old poverty thresholds needs to go too.

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