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What’s the Difference Between the Supplemental and Official Poverty Measures?

September 09, 2021
By Liana E. Fox and Kalee Burns, SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND HOUSING STATISTICS DIVISION

Estimated Read Time: 3 minutes 

There has been continued debate about the best way to measure income and poverty in the United States since the first official U.S. poverty statistics were published in the mid-1960s. At the U.S. Census Bureau, we measure poverty two ways every year. The first, called the official poverty measure, is based on cash resources. The second measure, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), includes both cash and noncash benefits and subtracts necessary expenses (such as taxes and medical expenses). The official poverty measure was developed in the mid-1960s, and it has remained mostly unchanged since then. In contrast, the SPM was designed to improve as new data, methods, and further research become available. This short blog will discuss the development of the SPM as well as contrast the two measures.

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