There are two official measures of poverty issued annually by the
federal government: Poverty thresholds
from the Census Bureau and poverty
guidelines issued by the Department of Health and
Human Services. Both of these measures are intended to
identify the level of income necessary to meet basic needs.
The official poverty statistics, which
have been in use since the 1960s, calculate poverty status
by comparing a family’s or an individual’s cash income to their
poverty threshold. If a family’s total income
is less than the family’s threshold, then that family and every
individual in it is considered in poverty.
In 2011, the Census Bureau issued a paper that laid groundwork
for developing a new Supplemental Poverty Measure
(SPM) for the United States. This
paper illustrate differences between the official measure of
poverty and a poverty measure that takes account of
in-kind benefits received by families and nondiscretionary
expenses that they must pay.
Prior to the publication of the Research Supplemental Poverty
Measure in 2011, the Census Bureau conducted a variety of
studies looking at how income distribution changes
when the definition of income is varied to include or
exclude different components. These
reports were issued irregularly and, though unofficial and
experimental in nature, add to our understanding of poverty.
Each year, the U.S. Census Bureau releases a number of public
reports on the level of poverty in the previous year and trends
in the level and composition of the poor from year to year. This
issue of Fast Focus seeks to make sense of these various measures
at the federal, state, and local levels.