The new poverty measure and what it means for children

BlogDec 14 2011

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a fascinating panel on poverty at the Urban Institute on recent changes to the poverty measure. The new Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) includes government benefits, such as food stamps, housing assistance and tax credits, reflects housing costs for each state, and deducts expenditures for critical goods such as health care.

We were charged with discussing what the new measure means for children and the elderly, and for state and federal safety net policies. Even with the new SPM, poverty rates are high for American children. The research tells us that poverty really matters for child development and their outcomes. As a result, how we measure poverty also matters, and we must do it fully and accurately.

At the panel, I shared five observations about what the SPM really means for children, which you can find here.

Essentially, the supplemental measure makes several important changes noted above, and as a result, the proportion of children living in families that are in deep poverty decreases from 10 percent under the official measure to 5 percent with SPM. That is a substantial reduction.

Still 1 in 20 children are in deep poverty (below 50% of the poverty line).

No matter which measure is used, children were the age group most likely to be poor in the U.S.A. in the year 2010.  And the proportion has been increasing over the past several years.

A little more than one in five lived in poverty using the official measure.

A little less than one in five lived in poverty using the supplemental poverty measure.

No matter what the exact percentage is, the research is very clear that children living in poverty suffer a variety of negative outcomes:

  • poorer educational outcomes,
  • poorer health,
  • less positive social and emotional development, and
  • more problem behaviors.

Some of these outcomes reflect disadvantages of the parents, of course – poor children are more likely to live in single parent households, to have less educated parents, and to be born to young, unmarried parents.

However, some recent analyses by Child Trends found, as these studies generally do, income is strongly related to children’s subsequent well-being and development on nearly every child outcome examined, over and above the effects of other factors.

So, while there may be fewer children in poverty under the new SPM, the rates continue to rise, and the deleterious outcomes for children are well known.  What we can do about these rates should continue to be a source of concern and focus for us all.