"What it can do, what it has done in the past is to give us a sense of how well some of our safety net programs are working," said Jessica Carson, vulnerable families research scientist for the Carsey Institute. "By having the ability to look at how much a program like food stamps, or the earned income tax credit, it can give us a look into what really seems to be lifting children and elderly families out of poverty and what seems to be contributing less to that."
The Supplemental Poverty Measure shows that in 2012, 49.7 million Americans were living in poverty compared to 47 million shown on the official poverty measure.
Fewer children are living in poverty (18 percent) according to the Supplemental Poverty Measure, compared with the official poverty measure (22.3 percent). These rates differ because the Supplemental Poverty Measure accounts for safety net programs such as free and reduced lunches and food stamps.
But more elderly Americans (14.8 percent) are living in poverty according to the new data compared to the official measure (9.1 percent). This increase is because the Supplemental measure also calculates child care, medical bills and other necessary household expenses.
Overall poverty rates may not be rising, but Carson said statistics like these are indicative of how many less traditional families are seeking the aid of safety net programs.
"Families that don’t have children, or householders who are not disabled are using these programs," Carson said. "I think that speaks broadly to the slowly recovering economic conditions the nation has faced post-recession."
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