Census Poverty Figures Show Things are Worse Than We Knew

PovertyChartThe American poverty rate is even higher than we knew, according to a new method used by the U.S. Census Bureau. The more realistic calculation puts about 16 percent of Americans at or below poverty level, compared with 15.2 percent under the standard model.

Acting on recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, the Census Bureau designed the new measure to capture the impact of many forms of non-cash public assistance, such as food stamps, housing subsidies and energy assistance…The alternative calculation also takes into account geographic differences in prices.

Not all groups are affected equally. Those with fewest means to improve their incomes are in the most trouble. I’m talking about your grandparents or parents.

The new measure had a major impact on poverty rates among the elderly, in part because they have large medical expenses. While Social Security keeps many of them just over the poverty line, health care costs can easily pull them under, Short said. Some 15.9% of senior citizens are considered poor, up from 9% under the official rate.

Things would be even worse without the assistance.

Six temporary safety net programs that originated in the 2009 stimulus act helped keep 7 million people out of poverty, said Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, citing the new Census report. These include three new or expanded tax credits, two enhancements of unemployment insurance, and expanded food stamp benefits.

These programs are all facing cuts in the ginned up deficit crisis.