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A Better Way to Measure Poverty

Income and Poverty

A Better Way to Measure Poverty

Income and Poverty

Innovating Census Data Collection While Saving Time and Money

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Poverty assistance programs were established to provide a safety net for some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations. Yet program participation for some people is still not being counted in surveys.

Who are these people and why does this happen?

People of all ages, genders, races and ethnicities in various living situations can be on public assistance.  Filling out a Census Bureau survey can be too time-consuming and daunting for some. Answering the questions correctly can be challenging.

That’s why the Census Bureau is looking at ways to better identify people who receive poverty assistance through the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) evaluation project.

The data will provide policymakers the ability to inform and guide program decisions.

Through this innovative research project, the Census Bureau has shown that program participation is underreported.

Comparing survey responses for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) to equivalent program administrative records from seven states, the Census Bureau found that around 46 percent of recipients did not say they were receiving SNAP in their responses to the Current Population Survey.

There are many reasons why this may be. Survey respondents may be sensitive to the perceptions or stigma associated with participation in poverty programs, or they may not know or just forget that someone else in the household receives SNAP benefits.

The Census Bureau understands that people are busy and their time is valuable. The long-term goal of the SPM evaluation project is to reduce the burden on you.

Through this project, the Census Bureau can link administrative records for government programs, such as SNAP, to survey data to improve the quality of program participation data. It does this while maintaining the highest level of security and privacy.

It’s an exciting time for innovation at the Census Bureau. Efforts like the SPM evaluation project can save taxpayers time and money.

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Misty Heggeness is Chief of the Longitudinal Research, Evaluation and Outreach Branch in the Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division at the Census Bureau.


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