Census changes way it measures poverty

Nov. 4, 2011 at 2:04 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. Census Bureau said it will release an alternative measure of poverty expected to provide a more accurate count than existing figures.

The New York Times said the new measure, to be released Monday, is designed to provide a more accurate count of the resources poor people have and the bills they must pay.

When the bureau said in September the number of poor Americans had risen by 9.7 million since 2006 to 46.2 million people, most poverty experts called the measure flawed.

It didn't count hundreds of billions of dollars poor people receive in food stamps and other benefits and similar amounts they pay in taxes and for medical care, nor note rents can vary a great deal depending on the location.

Measures published in the past that are thought to be similar to the Census Bureau's new measure have suggested safety-net programs have been largely overlooked and when counted, half of the reported rise in poverty since 2006 disappears.

More complete measures also show less poverty among children but more among the elderly, facing high medical costs. Such measures also indicate less poverty among blacks but more among Asians, less poverty in rural areas and more in cities and suburbs, with higher costs of living, and fewer destitute people but more of the "near poor" ineligible for benefit programs.

"The official measure no longer corresponds to reality," said Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work at Columbia University. "It doesn't get either side of the equation right -- how much the poor have or how much they need. No one really trusts the data."

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