Supplemental Poverty Measure shows that high costs of living erode the impacts of antipoverty policies


Costs of living vary tremendously across the US. Yet, historically, our measurement of poverty and our major antipoverty programs have not accounted for this variation. The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) considers a variety of important factors that the official measure does not, including geographic variation in costs of living. This translates into different poverty thresholds for different regions. These geographic variations in the SPM poverty line have a substantial effect on the estimated antipoverty impacts of government programs. In our latest brief, we find that the main reason antipoverty programs seem to make less of a difference in high-cost areas is simply that the costs in those areas are greater. It takes more to make ends meet in high-cost areas, but government benefits do not generally reflect this fact. Ultimately, our analyses show that costs of living are critical to the accurate assessment of state-level poverty rates and the true impact of antipoverty programs.