Effects Of The Supplemental Poverty Measure

May 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Are you or is someone you know poor or low income but unable to qualify for assistance ? The new Supplemental Poverty Measure may eventually change that. It won’t debut as the Official measure and you won’t see it’s results till Fall but a prototype of the measure gives us a glimpse of how it may redefine poverty. Analysis of the prototype results, delivered to economists earlier this year, and online in a  Census working paper, reveals higher poverty rates, in general, and shifts the demographics of need in ways you might find surprising.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure  is significantly more sophisticated then the current official measurement and can calculate a more wholistic financial picture by accounting for an individual’s various incomes (cash and non cash), work related expenses, and annual household costs. It can discriminate between persons owning homes with a mortgage and without and thus “rent free,”  for instance. Through this rigorous analysis more working poor, elderly, and married couples appear to be in poverty then previously supposed.

In general more people, approximately 1%, fall to the poverty line using the precisions of the new measure. Remarkably, numbers of elderly poor will double.  Increased poverty rates will be seen in urban areas, suburbs, and the regions of the Northeast, South and West.  More populations of “foreign born” and “Hispanics” will also be counted as poor, according to the Census paper.

People whose poverty is greatly eased because of significant government assistance or who are sharing their housing with others that defray costs would likely change in their relation to the poverty line.  Less children will be counted in poverty. Poverty in the Midwest region and in rural areas throughout the country will go down.

These are some of the adjustments the prototype Supplemental Poverty Measure is having on our understanding of who grapples with poverty but goes unassisted.  It’s not certain the tool that debuts in fall will function the same way, it’s still conjecture, but, hold on America, we’re about to see that inadequate official poverty meaures have neglected our elderly neighbors, the parents of some of our children’s friends, and the friendly waitress serving our super size drinks.

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.

The Long Blog About The Slow Road To A Realistic Poverty Measure

May 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

How do we define basic need?  Supposing we differ in our answers can we agree that it’s a far cry from needs in 1960? There’s really no argument on that point is there? Yet, the threshold defining poverty is based on the 60’s-a time where women mostly stayed at home and single parents were uncommon.  Life changed but  poverty threshold measurements didn’t.

Poverty “thresholds” are used to count people in poverty, they’re statisitcal measures; abstracts. Poverty “guidelines,” based on the thresholds, affect quality of life.  They’re used to qualify families and individuals for public assistance.  Over the years, our increasingly antiquated measurements impacted guidelines causing the poor to try harder and harder to make 1960 standards fit into 1970, 1980, and 1990 budgets.  The thresholds also failed our government because, as methods of poverty relief  became less and less cash based (ie-food stamps, tax breaks, energy assistance), the simplistic old meaurement system was unable to capture programmatic effectiveness.  Were programs making a difference? Was everyone in poverty getting poverty relief?  Our measurements weren’t telling us.

Congress called for a review in the 90’s.  The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) evaluated and reported on needed changes in 1995. They suggested assessing basic need through a method of bundling  food, clothing, shelter, and utility prices and adding a mulitiplier that would adjust for the cost of  household supplies, personal care, and non work related transportation. They called for the  factoring in of geographic price variations. It was a sophisticated advance over the existing  threshold that used only a bundle of food times the multiple of 3 (based on the 60’s notion that food was 1/3rd of a household budget) to determine need.

NAS also recommended adjusting the income tests determining degree of need. They proposed adding  net earnings plus in-kind public assistance received (food stamps etc)  and subtracting the costs of commuting, childcare, and medical expense.  They concluded that “the proposed measure, compared with the current measure showed a lower poverty rate for people in families on public assistance and a higher poverty rate for people in working families.”  Current income tests analyze only gross income and other monies such as interest income with no consideration for in kind assistance or the costs of working life so many people who struggle are not qualifying for financial help. 

No action was taken on the recommendations from NAS.  And, though US Census grew more concerned about accurately measuring the number of poor in America and implemented experimental poverty measures, the movement for change died in George W Bush’s administration.  A recent Washington Post article about this history writes, “Although the poverty measurement is largely of interest to academics today, it has the potential to alter our perceptions of who is poor, how persistent a problem poverty is and whether policies should be reordered.”  I’d add that it has the potential to help alot of people whose 21st century needs aren’t being detected by a 20th century tool. It’s not an intellectual matter to people whose lives depend on it’s accuracy.

President Obama’s Adminstration has done a few things to help poverty but including funding to update the thresholds was one of the quietest and most meaningful acts he’s taken to help  poor and low income Americans.  The Supplemental Poverty Measure  won’t impact guidelines soon but it will give government good data on the success rate of poverty relief programs so it can emphasize distribution of assistance that really matters. In the long run this is the first step in better supporting fnancially vulnerable populations.  Thank you President Obama.

Why do I blog about urban poverty?

April 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Welcome to Ruurbanpoor. This is a blog about Urban Poverty. If you’re poor or low income you’re often confronted with invisibility in America, right? You probably don’t buy many things so you’re  not invited to the conversation.  Because there’s little balanced and authentic information about your life and viewpoints there’s a tendancy to perceive you through an inaccurate and sometimes distorted lens. I’m creating this blog to provide a place for visibility of your issues, your lifestyles, and policies that impact your well being.

I’m not  poor. I don’t speak for anyone in persistent poverty or anyone living under the poverty line. I live at approx 230% of the poverty line  (as it’s defined today) when I’m getting full time work and don’t have large unexpected bills dragging my income down.  If my unstable wages, sudden bills, and unexpected financial demands were taken into consideration the reality of my financial experience might be closer represented by poverty definitions. Like me, many people are hanging on the edge and are locked out of support because of antiquated definitions.

In my city, more than 12% of  residents  live at the poverty line according to 2009 Census figures though this is a city of considerable wealth with a median income level at $57,000. Here’s a  map of the distribution of poverty in my city, Seattle, and county, King County.  I hope you’ll participate in this blog and let us know what poverty looks like in your city.

You may find some of my blogs naive or written on topics of “old news.”  You may have been aware, for instance, of the inadequacy of the poverty line for years. You and people forced into anonymity as statistics may be too familiar with the volume of needs and the demographics of hardship. I offer this blog as someone exploring this world, close to this world and wanting  to better understand. Want to help? Send me your feedback.

Behind the creation of this blog are generous friendships that keep my life stable and enrich each day. I hope you enjoy and learn from Ruurbanpoor. Most of all I hope you participate!

Golden Years Dim For Growing Numbers Of Aging Poor

January 6, 2012 § 1 Comment

If you’re poor or ever have been you know that costs others may take for granted loom and finding aid takes time, patience, and good searching skills. Many places that help require quick action and personal appearances for intake interviews. It’s a challenge for most people but for those with physical limitations, problems with memory or no transportation it’s daunting and aid can go unfound and unclaimed. That’s part of why late 2011 news announcing that 1 in 6 seniors may be poor is so troublesome. How many of those elders aren’t finding advocates who can help? I hate to imagine.

Any senior who faces the hardships of poverty is a tragedy. Old age has many natural hardships and poverty just compounds an already challenging stage of life. Prior to new Census analysis, using the Supplemental Poverty Measure, it was believed that 9% of the senior population lived that tragedy. But the more sophisticated analysis that takes into account things like the cost of medicine found that nearly 16% of our older population are struggling at the poverty line.  

“My health insurance has asked for a raise. I am having $313.00 taken out of my Social Security check now. When you take that away from $900.00 you don’t have much to pay for the rent,” writes a woman in Maryland. “I’m on Social Security disability and I am raising two grandchildren. I don’t have custody of them and I draw no extra money for help. We are living from one pay check to paycheck and still do without,” writes another. They’re two of more than 4,000 elders who contributed their story of economic hardship at One Away in order to help Congress understand financial crisis in old age and the necessity of financial supports.

Struggling seniors are members of America’s invisible community so you may not realize that, in 2010, 3.5 million lived BELOW the poverty line. Feeding America found that even if there was some money to buy food older people often had trouble accessing groceries because of health and transportation problems. Older people also have SNAP (food stamps) cards less often even though they meet eligibility criteria.

Add homelessness to the list of woes in old age. Jobs, houses, and retirement savings lost in the recession are hard to overcome in later years. Though homelessness hasn’t historically been an aging issue The National Alliance to End Homelessness anticipates a 33% rise in aging people without homes between 2010 and 2020 caused by pressures such as: financial collapse, job loss, mental health challenges, discontinued or inadequate public assistance, relationship problems, physical problems and illness or disagreements with family or friends offering shelter.

Streetlife isn’t meant for anyone but it’s especially hard on elders. In San Diego county in 2009 25% of the transitional housing population were 51+ and 28% of the local emergency shelters were over 51.   Homeless advocates view 50 as old in terms of homelessness. Many people living on the street don’t reach 62 and living outside will progress aging significantly.

Life is not getting easier or mellower for a shockingly significant percent of the aging population.You can help by contacting elected officials about saving benefits for older people and protecting Medicare and Social Security which are often the only sources of income and health protection people have. Take good care of parents, grandparents and aging relatives. If your neighbor is aging check in occasionally to see what may be needed. Aging isn’t easy. Aging with worry and financial stress is hard. Your care and support won’t solve poverty but can make someone’s life more tolerable.

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