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

Following decades of research on poverty measurement and guidance from a National Academies of Sciences Panel and the Interagency Technical Working Group on Developing a Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), in 2011 the Census Bureau released the first annual SPM report. Since this first publication, no major changes have been made to the SPM, but research has been ongoing at the BLS and Census Bureau on potential improvements and validation of prior assumptions. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has established a new interagency technical working group, which set 2021 as a target for making methodological improvements to the measure. Further future improvements to the SPM are being considered by a National Academies of Sciences panel.

Below are changes to the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) methodology that were voted on during the September 2020 SPM interagency technical working group.

1.  Resources

a.  Move from a national value to state-varying values for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).


2.  Threshold

a.  Move the base of thresholds from 33rd percentile to a percentage of median with the percentage based on National Academy of Sciences (NAS) guidance or the share of median that gets closest to current SPM rate.
b.  Expand estimation sample to all consumer units with children.
c.  Lag Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) data used to estimate the thresholds by one year.
d.  Add imputed in-kind benefits to the thresholds.
e.  Move telephone expenditures out of utilities (i.e. no longer geographically adjust this portion of the threshold).
f.  Add home internet expenditures to thresholds.
g.  Use a composite FCSU consumer price index as opposed to the All Items, All Urban index to adjust components.


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