New Measure Puts U.S. Poverty Rate at 16%

The U.S. poverty rate was 16% in 2010, according to a new measure using an alternative method, up from the official rate of 15.2% reported by the Census Bureau.

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The Supplemental Poverty Measure — based on how much families spend on food, clothing, shelter, and utilities — represents a shift from the method the bureau has used since the 1960s, determining the official poverty line by tripling a family’s annual food budget.

Under the supplemental measure method, the annual income at which a family of four — two adults, two children — is considered to be living in poverty was $24,343 in 2010, compared to an official figure of $22,113 in the same year.

The supplemental measure showed that 18.2% of Americans under the age of 18 were living in poverty last year, down from the 22.5% official rate. However, it showed that, among those 65 and older, the supplemental rate was 15.9%, an increase from the 9% official rate.

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The U.S. Census Bureau reported the official numbers in September, which showed the proportion of Americans living in poverty climbing to 15.1% last year, up from 14.3% in 2009. The official numbers use a method based on U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics showing that about a third of the average American family’s income is spent on food.