In November, the Census Bureau released a new way to calculate the number of people in the U.S. who live in poverty – the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). As one might expect, the number of Americans classified as poor using the new methodology increased from 46.6 million to 49.1 million. Interestingly, however, the number of children in poverty decreased substantially, by 8.4 million, but the elderly category increased 5.1 million, primarily due to the inclusion of out-of-pocket medical expenses. Rather than a full scale cost-of-living adjustment for the various regions of the country, the new methodology included only the cost of housing. But including only that measure lowered the number in poverty in the South by 3.5 million.

But, defining the number of people in poverty, whether using the original methodology or the new SPM, does not reveal the resources made available to those families. The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) manages all of TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families), commonly referred to as the welfare program, through the Local Workforce Development Boards. For several years, TWC has complied various wage and benefit scenarios for those on TANF or on TANF transitional benefits. The most monetarily significant benefit not overseen by TWC is housing aid and is, therefore, not included. The chart below, coincidentally also released in November, is nonetheless very instructive.

Robert Rector, Heritage Foundation, wrote in 2007, “For most Americans, the word poverty suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 37 million persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau fit that description.”

This chart published by the Heritage Foundation with data from Census Bureau adds additional insight.

As the standard of living goes up for the poor in our nation, government programs should be focused on providing incentives for full time work and for stable marriages, both of which have been demonstrated to be the best ways out of poverty. Expanding the definition of poverty and thereby the number of Americans classified as poor is counterproductive.

– Arlene Wohlgemuth