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Supplemental poverty report highlights effect of

government benefit programs

U.S. Census Bureau releases 2011 Supplemental Poverty Measure

A new U.S. Census Bureau report measures poverty differently than does the Bureau’s traditional official poverty report and indicates that government programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals have kept many from falling deeper into poverty or even from falling into poverty at all. 

Poverty is defined in the official 2011 Census Bureau report according to household size, with a family of two adults and two children living on an annual gross monetary income of $22,811 or less.

Impact of Federal Programs on Individual Poverty

pictograph: stick people represent impact of federal programs on individual poverty

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) research suggests that without SNAP/Food Stamp benefits, the national SPM poverty rate would have been 1.5 percent higher (17.6 percent instead of 16.1 percent).

The SPM research suggests that without SNAP/Food Stamp benefits, the national SPM child poverty rate would have been 2.9 percent higher (21 percent rather than 18.1 percent).

The Supplemental Poverty Measure is not a simple measure of income like the official poverty measure, rather it is an estimate of the effects of various expenses and benefits on a household budget that attempts to account for the inadequacies of the official measure.

Traditionally, the official U.S. Census Bureau poverty report measures only pre-tax monetary income and does not take into account expenses for taxes, child care and other work-related expenses. Neither does the official report consider contributions toward the cost of medical care and health insurance premiums or medical out-of-pocket costs.

The SPM deducts necessary work-related expenses from income as well as medical care costs and at the same time counts not only cash income, but also the value of in-kind benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school lunches, housing assistance and refundable tax credits like the earned income tax credit.

The SPM report for 2011 finds that 49.7 million Americans are living in poverty, 3.1 million more than are represented by the official poverty measure.

One particularly significant statistic from the SPM is that seniors make up 12.6% of people in poverty as compared with 7.8% under the official measure, and medical out-of-pocket expenses nearly double the poverty rate among seniors.

January 2012 - New study: Poverty to keep rising due to slow [economic] recovery


Poverty affects nutrition

For a family living just above the poverty line, unexpected events such as paying for emergency hospital care, a major car repair or the loss of a job can push them into poverty.  When a family is that close to the edge, the budget will be adjusted by consuming smaller quantities of less expensive food, which usually does not meet all their nutritional needs.

Cost of living in the Fort Worth/Arlington Area

The Family Budget Estimator: What It Really Takes to Get by in Texas is a 2007 report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. This report examines what it takes to make ends meet on a “no-frills” budget in Texas’ metropolitan areas. 

Making the following assumptions:

  1. A 2-parent, 2-child family earns enough for housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and other basic needs without relying on government assistance.
  2. The family has employer-sponsored health insurance.
  3. The family buys bulk groceries, never eats out, and rarely purchases meat.
  4. The budget does not provide for any debt repayment or savings for a home or education.

To get by in the Fort Worth/Arlington area:

A family of four (in 2007) needed an annual income of $45,770. 

In contrast, to qualify for government assistance such as the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or “Food Stamps”), a family of four (in 2010) could earn no more than $22,050 a year (an average of $424 a week). In addition, SNAP is meant to only supplement, not completely fulfill, a household’s food budget.