In September the Census Bureau reported that 46.6 million people, 15.2 percent of the population, lived in poverty. If this number was shocking to you then yesterday’s report will be even more surprising. The Census Bureau released a supplementary report that identified more than 49 million Americans living poverty, which is 16 percent of the nation’s population.

 

Although the poverty data released in September will still be used to determine eligibility for financial assistance programs, the new measure was published to provide a more comprehensive look at the state of the nation’s economy.

 

Several weaknesses were identified in the method used to determine the official poverty rate, which has been used since the 1960s. These weaknesses include:

 

  • Varying medical costs
  • Expenses that are required to maintain a job that reduce disposable income
  • No way to differentiate between higher and lower cost of living areas
 

It was the identification of these weaknesses that led to the creation of the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM identified nearly 3 million additional Americans that are living in poverty.

 

The SPM report identified poverty levels among several different demographics including age, marital status, race and region. The official report identified 16.8 million individuals under the age of 18 living in poverty but this number dropped to 13.6 million in the supplemental report.

 

Unfortunately the news was not as good for adults. The official report identified 26.2 million individuals between the ages of 18 and 64 years and 3.5 million seniors as living in poverty. These numbers jumped to 29.2 million and 6.2 million, respectively, using the supplemental measurement data.

 

More than half of the families that live in poverty reside in the South (18.5 million) or the West (13.9 million). Poverty rates are lower in the Northeast (7.9 million) and Midwest (8.7 million).

 

What I found most interesting was that there wasn’t a big gap when looking at health insurance coverage in the supplemental report. More than 14 million Americans with private insurance still live in poverty. This number bumps up slightly to 15.3 million for uninsured families and then slightly more to 19.1 million for families with public insurance.

 

Learn more by downloading The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010 (PDF) report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

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