Census Bureau Alternative Measure Reveals Highest Poverty Rate Among Latinos
For more than a decade, the Census Bureau has been developing an alternative measure of poverty that is intended to better reflect the costs of basic living expenses as well as the resources people have to pay them. The bureau has just released results for 2010 from the alternative metric——called the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM)——that uses a wider range of factors than the official federal measure to determine poverty status.
The additional data used in the alternative measure include medical expenses, tax credits, non-cash government benefits (such as food stamps, housing subsidies and school lunch programs) and cost-of-living adjustments for different geographic areas. The alternative measure is not intended to replace the official measure, at least for now. For the foreseeable future, the Census Bureau will report two sets of numbers.
Compared with the official measure, SPM figures released by the Census Bureau show a higher national poverty rate for 2010, 16.0%, compared with the official poverty rate of 15.2%. The number of poor people in 2010 was 49.1 million using the alternative measure, compared with 46.6 million using the official measure. Using the SPM also resulted in higher poverty rates for some groups and lower poverty rates for others, when compared with the official measure.
Among the nation’s largest racial and ethnic groups, poverty rates using the alternative measure are higher than official poverty rates for Hispanics, whites and Asians, but are lower for blacks. For Hispanics, the SPM poverty rate (28.2%) was 1.5 percentage points higher than the official poverty rate of 26.7%. For whites, the SPM poverty rate was 11.1% while the official poverty rate was 10.0%. For Asians, the SPM poverty rate was 16.7% versus the official poverty rate of 12.1%. By contrast, the SPM poverty rate for blacks, 25.4% in 2010, was 2.1 percentage points lower than the official poverty rate of 27.5%.
When the alternative measure is used, a greater share of Hispanics in 2010 lived in poverty than any other group. By contrast, when using the official poverty rate, a greater share of blacks in 2010 lived in poverty than Hispanics or any other group. Even so, no matter which measure is used, Hispanics make up nearly three-in-ten of the nation’s poor——28.6% under the official poverty measure and 28.7% under the SPM.
The report, “Hispanic Poverty Rate Highest in New Supplemental Census Measure,” also contains comparisons of the official poverty rate and the SPM poverty rate for children, the elderly, the native born, immigrants, those who live in cities and suburbs and those who live outside metropolitan areas. The report, authored by Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center, and D’Vera Cohn, Senior Writer, Pew Research Center, is available at the Pew Hispanic Center’s website, www.pewhispanic.org.
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