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More Accurate Poverty Measure for MA and Nation

PHOTO: A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation provides a more accurate picture of how safety-net programs are helping families. Photo courtesy of Maine Community Foundation.
PHOTO: A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation provides a more accurate picture of how safety-net programs are helping families. Photo courtesy of Maine Community Foundation.
February 25, 2015

BOSTON - It's the first major update of how to measure poverty since the 1960s and a report out today suggests a more accurate way to calculate the federal poverty level.

The report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation says when the impact of government safety-net programs is factored in more than 11 million children were lifted out of poverty between 2011 and 2013, including over 220,000 kids in the Commonwealth.

Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, says the Supplemental Poverty Measure also shows big progress was made in the state.

"We see clearly the effects of a number of important and effective government programs, like the Earned Income Tax Credit and SNAP, what we used to call Food Stamps," he says. "Another one in seven children would be in poverty if we didn't have some of these effective government programs."

Berger says the Supplemental Poverty Measure also takes into account cost-of-living variations between regions. It was created by the Census Bureau in 2011.

The Casey Foundation's associate director for policy reform and advocacy, Laura Speer, says a big reason for the update is the government index sets a uniform poverty level at $24,000 for a family of four. She points out that the cost of living in many parts of the country can drive the real poverty line up to twice that amount.

"This is a really important measure and we need to get better being able to track how many kids are living, really, in economic deprivation in our country," she says.

Berger says even with those safety-net programs, about 200,000 Massachusetts children are still living in poverty. For them, he says, more can and should be done.

"A lot of that is basic stuff, making sure people can get to work on a public transportation system that works, that somebody can care for their children while they're at work, and that people have access to job training, so that they can get good jobs and keep them," he says.

Nationwide, the Casey Foundation also finds, despite the progress, there are still 13 million kids who live below the poverty line.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA