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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2021

Supplemental Poverty Measure

Since the publication of the first official poverty estimates in 1964, there has been continuing debate about the best approach for measuring poverty in the United States. Recognizing that alternative estimates of poverty provide useful information to the public as well as the Federal government, the U.S. Census Bureau publishes poverty estimates using the supplemental poverty measure (SPM). The SPM does not replace the official poverty measure (OPM) but serves as an additional indicator of economic well-being and provides a deeper understanding of economic conditions and policy effects. The SPM is based on the suggestions of an interagency technical working group.34

In contrast to the OPM, which compares pre-tax cash income to a set of thresholds first derived in the early 1960s, the SPM incorporates additional items, such as tax payments; work expenses; medical out-of-pocket expenditures; and the value of noncash nutritional, energy, and housing assistance. An important contribution of the SPM is that it allows us to gauge the potential effect of tax credits and transfers in alleviating poverty. SPM thresholds were derived by staff at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from Consumer Expenditure Survey data on basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing, and utilities) and are adjusted for geographic differences in the cost of housing.

Indicator ECON1.C: Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in poverty by race and Hispanic origin and type of poverty measure, 2019
Indicator ECON1.C: Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in poverty by race and Hispanic origin and type of poverty measure, 2019

NOTE: The term "White, non-Hispanic" is used to refer to people who reported being White and no other race and who are not Hispanic. The term "Black, non-Hispanic" is used to refer to people who reported being Black or African American and no other race and who are not Hispanic, and the term "Asian, non-Hispanic" is used to refer to people who reported only Asian as their race and who are not Hispanic. The use of single-race populations in this table does not imply that this is the preferred method of presenting or analyzing data. The U.S. Census Bureau uses a variety of approaches. From 1980 to 2002, following the 1977 U.S. Office of Management and Budget standards for collecting and presenting data on race, the Current Population Survey (CPS) asked respondents to choose one race from the following: White, Black, American Indian or Alaskan Native, or Asian or Pacific Islander. An "Other" category also was offered. Beginning in 2003, the CPS allowed respondents to select one or more race categories. People who reported only one race are referred to as the race-alone population. Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Furthermore, these data were collected during the global pandemic of 2020. While the Census Bureau went to great lengths to continue to complete interviews by telephone, the response rate for the survey was negatively impacted. The Census Bureau creates weights designed to adjust for nonresponse, but non-respondents in 2020 are less similar to respondents than in earlier years. Of particular interest, respondents in 2020 had relatively higher income and were more educated than non-respondents. For possible effects on these estimates, please see https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/research-matters/2020/09/pandemic-affect-survey-response.html.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

  • For all children, the 2019 SPM rate was 12.5%, 1.9 percentage points lower than the OPM rate of 14.4%.35
  • In 2019, the SPM rate was lower than the OPM rate for White, non-Hispanic and Black, non-Hispanic children. The SPM rate was higher than the OPM rate for Asian, non-Hispanic children. There was no statistical difference between the SPM rate and the OPM rate for Hispanic children.
  • The SPM rate was higher for Asian, non-Hispanic children than for White, non-Hispanic children in 2019. However, the difference in OPM rates between these two groups was not statistically significant.

table icon ECON1C HTML Table

34 For the latest report, see Fox, L. (2020). The supplemental poverty measure: 2019. In Census Publications (P60-272). U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-272.pdf

35 Estimates include unrelated individuals under age 15.