How to measure poverty? It may seem like a wonky question, but it’s one that matters in gauging the impacts of anti-poverty programs.
The official poverty measure was created in the 1960s and is valuable for evaluating long-term economic trends. But it doesn’t capture the benefits of anti-poverty programs that benefit Texas kids and families, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing subsidies, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit. The official poverty measure also doesn’t account for differences in cost of living. In fact, some of these programs, like EITC, didn’t even exist when the official poverty measure was created.
Enter the Supplemental Poverty Measure, or “SPM.” The SPM takes into account factors that worsen child poverty rates (higher child care and medical costs than in the 60s), and factors that improve child poverty rates (SNAP, tax credits, housing subsidies). It also adjusts for differences in cost of living. We know from previous research that the income needed to make ends meet in Austin is not the same as in El Paso.
When everything is added, subtracted and adjusted, the Supplemental Poverty Measure shows state and federal programs help millions of kids from experiencing economic hardship. In the absence of any federal and state programs, nearly 1.2 million more Texas kids would experience poverty, using the SPM.
The data come from a new Kids Count Data Snapshot, Measuring Access to Opportunity in the United States. Read the report here.