New Poverty Measure Shows Government’s Anti-Poverty Impact

November 9, 2011 at 11:52 am

[This commentary, on the experimental measure of poverty that the Census Bureau released this week, first appeared in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.]

The Census Bureau’s release of the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) makes clear, in a way that the traditional poverty measure cannot, that federal and state programs significantly reduce the extent and depth of poverty.

The official measure counts only cash income and does not include in-kind benefits or tax credits, whereas the SPM captures a much broader array of safety net programs. The SPM shows that on an ongoing basis, but especially in response to this recession, the Earned Income Tax Credit kept approximately six million above the poverty line in 2010, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) kept more than four million above the poverty line. This provides proof that these programs help protect American families from poverty caused by low pay, job loss, disability, old age, and other vulnerabilities and misfortune that President Franklin Roosevelt called the “vicissitudes of life.” Such findings come when many benefits are under attack, and they serve as a powerful antidote to the myth that this assistance can be cut without significant harm. Policymakers should take heed and extend or protect these polices.

By adopting a more meaningful poverty threshold and a more complete understanding of family resources available for meeting basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, the SPM also reveals the burden of out-of-pocket healthcare costs (which pushed approximately ten million people below the poverty line) and child care and other necessary work expenses in 2010 (which pushed nearly five million below the poverty line) — factors not considered in the traditional measure of poverty.

Related Posts:

Print Friendly

More About Indivar Dutta-Gupta

Indivar Dutta-Gupta

Indivar Dutta-Gupta joined the Center as Policy Advisor in January 2011. His work primarily focuses on federal budget and tax policies and cross-cutting low-income issues.

Full bio | Blog Archive | Research archive at

1 Comments Add Yours ↓

Comments are listed in reverse chronological order.

  1. Monte McKenzie #

    there is never a shortage of projects that need doing in a big country like ours, just a government that won’t plan ahead for getting those jobs organized and done! Most of this type of work isn’t rocket science and people can be trained on the job. It’s about as cost effective to use hand labor to trim back the brush on the roadside as to use power equipment. That puts money in more hands and fewer people looking for handouts and burns less fuel making carbon dioxide.

Your Comment

Comment Policy:

Thank you for joining the conversation about important policy issues. Comments are limited to 1,500 characters and are subject to approval and moderation. We reserve the right to remove comments that:

  • are injurious, defamatory, profane, off-topic or inappropriate;
  • contain personal attacks or racist, sexist, homophobic, or other slurs;
  • solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites or to sell products or services;
  • may infringe the copyright or intellectual property rights of others or other applicable laws or regulations; or
  • are otherwise inconsistent with the goals of this blog.

Posted comments do not necessarily represent the views of the CBPP and do not constitute official endorsement by CBPP. Please note that comments will be approved during the Center's business hours. If you have questions, please contact

− two = 5

 characters available