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Report Calls For a New Yardstick for Measuring Poverty

PHOTO: The picture of child poverty in Michigan and across the nation isn't accurately reflected with the current government measuring tool, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Photo credit: gracey/morguefile.
PHOTO: The picture of child poverty in Michigan and across the nation isn't accurately reflected with the current government measuring tool, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Photo credit: gracey/morguefile.
February 25, 2015

LANSING, Mich. - Most people agree children should not grow up in poverty. How to measure what constitutes poverty, and how to best tackle it, is the subject of a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The current official measure of poverty dates back to 1960 and doesn't take into account regional costs of living, or adjust for inflation. Jane Zehnder-Merrell with the Michigan League for Public Policy says it also doesn't factor in safety-net programs like food and housing assistance that have improved the lives of many Michiganders, particularly during the most recent recession.

"If we didn't have these programs in place, 30 percent of our children would live in poverty," she says. "With the kinds of programs we now have in place, it's down to 15 percent in Michigan."

The report recommends the use of the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which was created by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2011.

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy with the Casey Foundation, says recalibrating the tools we use to measure poverty allows us to better target the programs and strategies we have to tackle it.

"Using the Supplemental Poverty Measure we can really see the successes and the limitations of the safety-net resources we've put into place," says Speer. "We can also see these resources don't go far enough. We still see that there are 13 million children below the poverty line."

While some critics of federal and state assistance programs claim they are too much of a burden on taxpayers, Zehnder-Merrell says the price tag associated with not addressing child poverty is far higher.

"What we're doing is really investing in people, so they'll be able to become functional workers, citizens, parents, and members of our community," she says.

It's estimated that child poverty costs the U.S. about $500 billion a year in lost productivity and earnings, and health and crime-related costs.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI