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Improvements to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure for 2021

Working Paper Number SEHSD-WP2021-17
Kalee Burns and Liana Fox


This paper summarizes recent improvements to the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) and compares the published estimates for 2019 to estimates for 2019 incorporating these methodological improvements. These improvements were approved by the Interagency Technical Working Group on the Supplemental Poverty Measure in September 2020. The changes implemented were: (1) The resource value of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) was changed from a national average value to state-varying values; (2) The base of the thresholds was moved from around the 33rd percentile to 83 percent of the median; (3 The estimation sample was expanded from consumer units with exactly two children to all consumer units with children; (4) Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) data was lagged by one year to estimate the thresholds; (5) Imputed in-kind benefits (i.e., energy assistance, National School Lunch Program, Rental Assistance, and WIC) were added to the thresholds; (6) Telephone expenditures were no longer geographically adjusted; (7) Home internet was added to the thresholds; (8) The price index used to adjust the threshold components was changed from the All Items, All Urban index to a composite Food, Clothing, Shelter, and Utilities Consumer Price index.


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