November 7, 2013

New measure finds one in six U.S. residents poor

The nation’s poor number 3 million higher than in the official count.

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

—By race, Hispanics and Asians saw higher rates of poverty, 27.8 percent and 16.7 percent respectively, compared with rates of 25.8 percent and 11.8 percent under the official formula. In contrast, African-Americans saw a modest decrease, from 27.3 percent to 25.8 percent based on the revised numbers. Among non-Hispanic whites, poverty rose from 9.8 percent to 10.7 percent.

"The primary reason that poverty remains so high is that the benefits of a growing economy are no longer being shared by all workers as they were in the quarter-century following the end of World War II," said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan economist.

"Given current economic conditions, poverty will not be substantially reduced unless government does more to help the working poor."

Economists long have criticized the official poverty rate as inadequate. Based on a half-century-old government formula, the official rate continues to assume the average family spends one-third of its income on food. Those costs have declined to a much smaller share, more like one-seventh.

In reaction to some of the criticism, the Obama administration in 2010 asked the Census Bureau to develop a new poverty measure, based partly on recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences. The goal is to help lawmakers better gauge the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs.

For instance, the new measure finds that if it weren't for Social Security payments, the poverty rate would rise to 54.7 percent for people 65 and older and 24.5 percent for all age groups.

Refundable tax credits such as the earned income tax credit helped lift 9 million people above the poverty line. Without the credits, child poverty would rise from 18 percent to 24.7 percent.

In recent years, New York City as well California, Virginia and Wisconsin have sought to put in place a more accurate poverty measure. They were prompted in part by local officials such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who have argued that the official measure does not take into account urban costs of living and that larger cities may get less federal money as a result.

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