Experimental Poverty Measures
Other Alternative Measures from the Census Bureau


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.

Alternative Estimates of Poverty

Alternative Estimates of Poverty in the United States: 2003.  This report explains how the official poverty measure was computed, how several series of alternative estimates were developed, and how the alternative and official measures offer different profiles of people in poverty.

Frequency and Timespan: one-time report with annual data for 1987 to 2003

Geographic Level of Coverage: National with some regional breakdowns

Publication is available online

Source:Dalaker, Joe, U.S. Census Bureau,Current Population Reports P60-227,  Alternative Estimates of Poverty in the United States: 2003,  U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005, Accessed 2/14/2012


The Effect of Taxes & Transfers

The Effect of Taxes and Transfers on Income and Poverty in theUnited States.  These reports, which are no longer being produced, provide estimates of poverty after accounting for taxes and benefits. 

Frequency and Timespan: Annual (ceased publication) with data for 1968-2009

Geographic Level of Coverage: National

Publications and tables are available online

U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports P60-232, The Effect of Taxes and Transfers on Income and Poverty in the United States,  U.S. Government Pringting Office, Washington, DC, 2007. Accessed 2/14/2012

By 2010, the Census Bureau employed optical scanners and computer software were used to convert handwritten questionnaires into electronic data. Photo courtesy U.S. Census Bureau.

How is poverty measured in the United States?
The two federal poverty measures in the U.S.

Each year, the U.S. Census Bureau counts people in poverty with two measures. Both the official and supplemental poverty measures are based on estimates of the level of income needed to cover basic needs. Those who live in households with earnings below those incomes are considered to be in poverty.