New Poverty Measurement Shows Fewer Washington Kids in Need
SEATTLE - The federal poverty level is outdated, according to a report that recommends a newer calculation developed by the U.S. Census Bureau for a more accurate picture of families in need.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation report says what's known as the "Supplemental Poverty Measure" is more realistic because it takes into account cost of living, tax credits, and food and housing assistance.
At the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, Research and Policy Director Lori Pfingst says the new measure shows from 2011 to 2013, government safety-net programs kept 241,000 children in Washington from slipping below the federal poverty line.
"This report shows these programs can work and they are making a big difference in the lives of children and families," Pfingst says. "However, it's important to note over the last five years we have made dramatic cuts to our social programs because of the state budget crisis that we're in."
She says there are several efforts in the Legislature to restore some of that funding, including state food assistance for documented immigrant families. The report says even with safety-net programs, 13 percent of Washington kids live in poverty but without them, that number jumps to 28 percent.
The federal poverty level was created in the 1960s, and the report says it doesn't reflect modern family expenses like child care, or much higher health care and housing costs.
Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy with the Casey Foundation, says states can use the newer measure to prioritize what will help kids and their families the most.
"Just getting families above that poverty line is not enough," Speer says. "We need to go beyond the safety-net programs – access to high-quality early education, changing tax credit policies to help families keep more of what they learn, and linking up programs for parents to programs for children."
The report says research shows that to cover basic living expenses today, a family of four needs an income that is roughly twice the official poverty threshold of $24,000 a year.