Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report that suggests the poverty rate among non-citizens in 2011 was a stunning 32 percent — seven percent higher than previously thought.  (U.S. Census, The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure 2011, Nov. 2012)

The report is significant because it calculates poverty using a new methodology, designed to include more relevant factors.  The “official poverty rate,” the rate with which most Americans are familiar, is generally measured by comparing the size of a family to the family’s pre-tax cash income.  (Report at 1)  However, this method of calculating poverty, established in the 1960s, has long been criticized by various organizations for not incorporating factors that reflect present-day life.  The National Academy of Sciences in particular issued a critique of the official poverty rate for not taking into account government-provided resources, expenses necessary to hold a job, variation in medical costs, important changes in family situations, and geographic differences in the cost of living.  (Report at 1-2)

Based on these criticisms, the Census Bureau has spent over two decades designing the Supplemental Poverty Measure.  This new method for measuring poverty in the United States — outlined in this latest U.S. Census Bureau Report — incorporates government-provided benefits such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), school lunches, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), housing benefits, and low-income home energy assistance.  It also takes into account tax payments or credits (such as the earned income tax credit), work-related expenses, child care costs, medical expenses, and child support. (Report at 4-5)

Based on this new methodology, the Census Bureau determined that the poverty rate among non-citizens in 2011 was a remarkable 32 percent, more than seven percentage points higher than reflected by the official poverty rate. (Report at 6) The Census Bureau also found that Hispanics have a poverty rate of 28 percent, up from 25.4 percent under the official poverty rate.  (Id.)  Additional data offered by the Census Bureau shows that the poverty rates among other demographics had changed as follows:

  • African Americans: 25.7, down from 27.8 percent under the official poverty rate;
  • Asians: 16.9 percent, up from 12.3 percent;
  • Whites: 11 percent, up from 9.9 percent;

In terms of geographic distribution, the new data shows that the highest poverty rates are in California and Washington, D.C.  In 2011, both had poverty rates of over 23 percent, up from 16 percent and 19 percent, respectively.  (Report at 12)