Agencies urge use of new measure in weighing poverty


A new poverty measurement, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), shows that without government intervention local and national anti-poverty programs the child poverty rate would nearly double, meaning that more families and children may be suffering in impoverished conditions than the official poverty measure may suggest.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation and Kids Count are urging policymakers to use not only the official poverty measure but also the SPM.

The Casey Foundation is the largest private foundation in the country that works to improve the quality of life for the country’s most disadvantaged youth. The organization launched the national Kids Count and also works closely with state Kids Count.

SPM was created in 2011 by the U.S. Census Bureau and takes into account the effect and impact of various antipoverty programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and geographical differences in the cost of living and the average income.

In contrast, the official poverty measure, created in the early 1960s, has become outdated, not considering the changes in raising a family since its inception, such as inflation or rising housing costs.

Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island Kids Count, said, “There needs to be a conversation on how to update the official system. It was created so many years ago. It is important to look at the whole picture so that we can help keep more children and their families above the poverty line.”

According to the SPM, in the United States, without governmental programs, the child poverty rate would almost double from 18 percent to 33 percent. Here in Rhode Island, the child poverty rate would jump from 16 percent to 33 percent.

The difference between the SPM and the official poverty measure is that the SPM tracks the effectiveness of government interventions.

Bryant said not only is the poverty rate an indicator of the health of children and families throughout the state, but it also gives a glimpse into the economy of Rhode Island.

She said, “The Supplemental Poverty Measure shows the importance of preserving and strengthening anti-poverty programs that are decreasing child poverty and improving the lives of thousands of Rhode Island’s children and families.”

By ignoring the SPM and only focusing on the official poverty measure, policymakers are missing out on a key proponent to battling poverty.

Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation, explained that without the SPM at both state and national levels programs cannot be assessed for their effectiveness.

“Given that child poverty costs our society an estimated $500 billion a year in lost productivity and earnings as well as health and crime-related costs, the SPM is an important tool that should be used to assess state level progress in fighting poverty,” McCarthy said in a press release.

Similarly, the SPM shows differences in states geographically, but also by which programs are and are not supported.

Stephanie Geller, the policy analyst for Kids Count explained that Rhode Island differs from other states in that they have some of their own anti-poverty programs and don’t rely on national programs alone. The SPM allows policymakers to look at those differences state by state.

She said, “It helps to not only see but understand the changes in the poverty rate. You don’t only see the magnitude, but how policy changes effects that magnitude and identify the impact positive or negative any program has”

The Casey Foundation and Kids Count urge policymakers to utilize the SPM in decision-making to ensure that anti-poverty programs are working to reduce the poverty rate among children and families.

Bryant said, “The SPM is another tool, a more accurate tool, for the government to use so that they can be certain that the programs they implement and support are actually reducing family poverty.”


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