Study on Poverty Measurement Sparks Controversy

A new study from the National Academies urging the Census Bureau to update the methodology for calculating the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), “An Updated Measure of Poverty: (Re)Drawing the Line,” also recommended “that the more comprehensive SPM replace the current Official Poverty Measure as the primary statistical measure of poverty the Census Bureau uses” and “expanding its use in recognition of the needs of most American families such as medical care, childcare, and housing costs.”

However, Scott Winship, Director of Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute argued in a white paper that, instead of providing “the necessary information,” the Academies panel “attempted to entrench a specific type of poverty measure further into the bureaucracy of federal statistics without regard to the fundamental question of what best informs public understanding of the needs of poor Americans. The evidence suggests that key features of the SPM make it less accurate at identifying the poor than” the official poverty measure in use today.

Winship warned that the recommendation from the panel to replace the current official poverty measure with the SPM was “outside the panel’s mandate” and “reflects value judgements outside the realm of science—judgements lacking consensus among poverty measurement experts. This recommendation only fits in a ‘consensus study’ because the panel features even less ideological diversity than did its nearly invariant 1995 predecessor.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) recently responded to the controversy by urging the Census Bureau to “disregard these recommendations and commission a new, politically balanced report.”

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