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Consistency in Supplemental Poverty Measurement: Adding Imputed In‐Kind Benefits to Thresholds and Impact on Poverty Rates for the United States

Thesia I. Garner, Marisa Gudrais, and Kathleen S. Short


The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) statistics, released by the U.S. Census Bureau since 2011, use resources that account for federal in-kind (noncash) benefits for food, rent, and utilities; however, the SPM thresholds are based on food, clothing, shelter, and utilities (FCSU) spending (with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, benefits implicitly included in reported food spending). No in-kind benefit other than SNAP is accounted for in the thresholds. Thus, thresholds and resources are inconsistently defined; consistency in the thresholds and resources was listed as necessary in the March 2010 Interagency Technical Working Group (ITWG) guidelines on developing a SPM. Accounting for noncash benefits in the thresholds is a challenge as the Consumer Expenditure Interview Survey (CE), the source upon which the thresholds are based, collects limited or no information on these other benefits. The purposes of this study are to: impute in-kind benefits to consumer units participating in the CE; estimate SPM thresholds using these data; and produce poverty rates using the consistently defined Census Bureau SPM resource measure. SPM thresholds are produced for 2012 along with poverty rates. Poverty rates for the U.S. as a whole and for age and housing tenure subgroups are produced. For owners with mortgages and renters, resulting SPM thresholds are statistically significantly higher than those that do not account for these additional benefits. The differences in poverty rates based on the two sets of thresholds, and the same resource measure, are statistically significantly different from zero. This study represents the first time SPM thresholds and resources are consistently defined for poverty measurement.