New Measure Shows Government Assistance Kept More Than 25 Million Out Of Poverty In 2011

Last year, the Census Bureau began releasing the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) alongside the official measure its been using since the 1960s, in order to provide lawmakers with a more sophisticated picture of poverty in America. The Census Bureau today released its updated report on the SPM for 2012, which showed that about 16 percent of the country is living in poverty, roughly the same as last year.

Using that new data, the Center for American Progress determined that, all told, federal programs aimed at helping struggling Americans lifted more than 25 million people out of poverty in 2011:

Refundable tax credits for working families such as the earned income and child tax credits, for example, lifted 8.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, and the child poverty rate would have been 6.3 percentage points higher without them. Similarly, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011. Without it, the child poverty rate would have been 2.9 percentage points higher.

The official poverty metric used in America since the 1960s takes the basic food diet for a household, accounts for various family compositions, multiplies that by three, and then looks at whether a family’s gross income before taxes and transfers meets that threshold. But that approach leaves out several important factors, including changes in family structures and circumstances since the 1960s, expenses such as clothing and medical costs, and geographic variation. And while it considers the effects of some government spending such as Social Security and welfare, it ignores others, as well as with the effects of many tax credits that help millions of American families.