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A State-by-State Snapshot of Poverty Among Seniors: Findings From Analysis of the Supplemental Poverty Measure

Supplemental Poverty Measure: Key Findings, Background, Findings, Methodology
  1. Kathleen Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010,” The Census Bureau, November 2011, http://census.gov/hhes/povmeas/methodology/supplemental/research/Short_ResearchSPM2010.pdf and Kathleen Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2011,” The Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p60-244.pdf, November 2012.

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  2. The difference was statistically significant in DC and all but 14 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia.

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  3. The share of Medicare beneficiaries overall with incomes below 100 percent and 200 percent of the poverty thresholds is higher than for seniors, because poverty rates are higher among disabled Medicare beneficiaries than among seniors.

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  4. The difference was statistically significant in DC and all but 9 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

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  5. “Frequently Asked Questions Related to the Poverty Guidelines and Poverty,” Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation, accessed on May 8, 2013, http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/faq.cfm

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  6. The “federal poverty level” is a simplified version of the poverty threshold that is used in some instances to determine eligibility for public assistance.

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  7. Poverty Thresholds for 2012 by Size of Family and Number of Related Children Under 18 Years,” The Census Bureau, http://census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/threshld/index.html

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  8. Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2011.” 

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  9. Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2011.” 

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  10. Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2011.” 

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  11. Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of the CMS Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey 2009 Cost and Use File. 

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  12. Rebecca M. Blank and Mark E. Greenberg, “Improving the Measurement of Poverty”, The Brookings Institution. December 2008, http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2008/12/poverty-measurement-blank.

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  13. John F. Cogan, “Measuring Poverty: A New Approach – Appendix A: Dissent,” National Academy of Sciences, 1995, http://nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=4759&page=385 and Bruce D. Meyer and James X. Sullivan., “Identifying the Disadvantaged: Official Poverty, Consumption Poverty, and the New Supplemental Poverty Measure”, Journal of Economic Perspectives 26, no.3 (2012), http://aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.26.3.111.

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  14. Analysts have also debated how to update the measure over time, although that discussion is less relevant to this brief, which provides a snapshot of poverty.  According to the Census Bureau, the official and supplemental poverty rates among the overall population differed by one percentage point or less from 2009 – 2011. Over time, official poverty thresholds will change with inflation, effectively maintaining their real value, while the supplemental thresholds will increase based on the 33rd percentile of expenditures on basic necessities (multiplied by 1.2).  Because the latter is based on actual spending patterns, supplemental poverty thresholds may increase over time with improvements in the general standard of living, a feature that is debated among policy analysts (see for example Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “Obama’s New Poverty Measure ‘Spreads the Wealth’,” National Review, November, 9, 2011, http://heritage.org/research/commentary/2011/11/obamas-new-poverty-measure-spreads-the-wealth and Blank and Greenberg, “Improving the Measurement of Poverty”).

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  15. Meyer and Sullivan, “Identifying the Disadvantaged: Official Poverty, Consumption Poverty, and the New Supplemental Poverty Measure.”

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  16. The authors of the NAS report recommended developing a separate measure for such “medical care risk.”  Robert T. Michael et al., “Measuring Poverty: A New Approach”, National Academy of Sciences, 1995, http://nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309051282.

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  17. Based on 2009, 2010, and 2011 results from the Census Bureau, the national poverty rate for individuals ages 65 and older would not differ substantially under the supplemental and official measures if the former did not exclude medical expenses (Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2011” and Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010”).  The Census Bureau also notes that elderly poverty rates under the official and supplemental measures differ partially because the official poverty threshold is lower for families with seniors in some instances, while the supplemental poverty threshold does not differentiate between adults above and below age 65.

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  18. This is very similar to analysis conducted in Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2011” and Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010.”  However, this output includes pooled data from 2009-2011 to match the state-level analysis in this brief.

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  19. This is in part because of the inclusion of refundable tax credits and food stamps. Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica C. Smith, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009,” September 2010, http://census.gov/prod/2010pubs/p60-238.pdf; Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2011;” and Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010.”

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  20. Poverty rates are higher among nonelderly Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities than among seniors under both the official measure (27% compared to 9%) and the supplemental measure (25% compared to 15%).  Unlike poverty rates among seniors, poverty rates among nonelderly Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities are lower under the supplemental measure than they are under the official measure. This might in part reflect the comparatively high rates of Medicaid coverage and receipt of other federal assistance payments such as food stamps among nonelderly Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities relative to seniors.

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  21. The difference was statistically significant in DC and all but 14 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia.

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  22. We did not assess whether the poverty rate among seniors in DC is also high relative to other major metropolitan areas, due to limitations with the Current Population Survey (CPS) city data.  CPS also includes data on “core based statistical areas” (CBSAs), which include a county containing at least one urban area of 10,000 people or more and related regions nearby. The CBSA containing DC also includes other areas in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, and has a lower senior poverty rate under the supplemental measure relative to DC alone (18% compared to 26%).  Of the 30 largest CBSAs, the CBSA containing DC had the 12th highest supplemental poverty rate among seniors, while the CBSAs containing San Jose, Los Angeles, and Miami had the highest poverty rates (26%, 25%, and 24% respectively).

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  23. The difference was statistically significant in DC and all but 9 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

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  24. Social Security benefits are currently adjusted based on the consumer price index (specifically, the CPI-W) to reflect increases in the cost of living.  Some deficit recommendation proposals – including the proposals put forth by The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (sometimes referred to as “Simpson-Bowles”) and The Debt Reduction Task Force (sometimes referred to as  “Domenici-Rivlin”) – have suggested updating Social Security benefits based on another version of inflation, known as the “chained” CPI.  Because this measure tends to increase less quickly than the CPI-W, Social Security benefits would likely decline over time.

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  25. Available at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/povmeas/data/supplemental/public-use.html.

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