Spotlight Exclusives

A New Way to Measure Poverty: SPM Round-Up

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The highly anticipated release of the Census Bureau۪s new Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) last week identified almost three million more Americans living in poverty than under the official poverty measure. Unlike the official measure, the SPM takes account of additional income sources, such as tax credits and non-cash benefits, and additional expenses, such as childcare and out-of-pocket health expenses. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


OOTS first previewed the SPM in October.  Since that time, major news outlets including The New York Times andThe Washington Post have covered the SPM۪s new findings.


Spotlight also featured immediate reactions to the release, tapping two voices to comment on the new data the day after the Census announcement. 


Indivar Dutta-Gupta of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlighted specific findings, noting that the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) kept more than four million above the poverty line. This provides proof that these programs help protect American families from poverty caused by low pay, job loss, disability, old age, and other vulnerabilities.”


Peter Mitchell of The Clapham Group also weighed in, pointing out that the SPM only accounts for material evaluations when it should also account for social capital: “The discussion of the SPM must not consist purely of technical and statistical soliloquies, but of a wider discussion on whether the SPM attempts to measure those things we value. This is vital because how we measure poverty shapes our perception of it and most importantly how we seek to solve it.”


The New York Times columnist Charles Blow was more positive about the new measure. In an opinion piece earlier this week, Blow argued that the SPM responds to years of frustration about the official poverty measure from all corners, writing, “For decades, experts on both sides of the poverty debate have complained that the official government measure is flawed because it doesn۪t account for measures like benefits from government programs, health care costs or taxes.”


While the SPM is technically experimental and unofficial, the debate will continue as policymakers seek to accurately measure how many Americans live in poverty. Stay tuned to Spotlight for further developments, which can be found on our Poverty Data page.


Posted by Mike

Here at Out of the Spotlight, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at the latest news and information essential to anyone working to fight poverty. From key political appointees to clashes over policy, we cover the news that doesn’t always make the evening news. Check out Out of the Spotlight for our take on the twists and turns of the latest political developments and their impact on poverty reduction. Topics and ideas are welcome! Just contact or

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