Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A new way of counting poverty finds Latinos to be the poorest Americans

The Pew Hispanic Center has interpreted the U.S. Census Bureau's new alternative measure of poverty, which is intended to better reflect the cost of basic living expenses, along with the resources that people have to live on. Called the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), it uses additional factors to measure poverty than does the official federal measure.

Counted in are medical expenses, tax credits and government benefits such as food stamps, housing subsidies and school lunch programs, according to Pew's report on the new numbers today. Geographic cost-of-living adjustments are also factored in.

The result? There are even more poor people in the U.S. than previously counted, and more of them are Latino, Asian, and foreign-born. Latinos make up the biggest group of the poor under the new measure, compared with black Americans, still the poorest as counted by the official measure.

The SPM figures released by the Census Bureau show a national poverty rate of 16 percent, higher than the official poverty rate, which is 15.2 percent. As for Latinos, the alternative measure shows 28.2 percent of Latinos living in poverty, compared with the official rate of 26.7 percent. The new data also shows substantially more poor Asians (16.7 percent versus 12.1 percent) and slightly more poor whites (11.1 percent versus 10.0). Black Americans fared better, with the alternative measure showing 25.4 percent living in poverty, compared with an official poverty rate of 27.5.

The alternative measure doesn't replace the official one, but it does show that however the numbers crunched, a staggering number of Americans are living hand to mouth. Immigrants who have yet to become citizens are in particularly dire straits, with the data showing 32.4 percent of non-citizens living in poverty, versus 26.7 according to the official model. From the Pew report:

When the alternative measure is used, a greater share of Hispanics in 2010 lived in poverty than any other group. By contrast, when using the official poverty rate, a greater share of blacks in 2010 lived in poverty than Hispanics or any other group. Even so, no matter which measure is used, Hispanics make up nearly three-in-ten of the nation’s poor—28.6% under the official poverty measure and 28.7% under the SPM.

...The share of people born in the U.S. who are poor did not change significantly using the SPM in 2010, compared with the official measure, but the poverty rate for immigrants was higher— 25.5% versus 20.0%. For immigrants who are not U.S. citizens, the SPM poverty rate was 32.4% in 2010, while the official poverty rate was 26.7%. For naturalized citizens, the SPM poverty rate was 16.8% in 2010, compared with the official poverty rate of 11.4%.


The report notes that the Census Bureau data doesn't explain why the poverty rates for Latinos and other ethnic groups change when the alternative measure is used. However, a footnote mentions that Latinos are less likely to have health insurance, thus spending more on out-of-pocket medical costs, and that many tend to live in parts of the country where housing is more expensive, such as California.
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