Nov. 15, 2012 -- A new Census measure shows that nearly 50 million people in the United States live below the poverty level, including nearly three in ten Latinos.
The new number, released on Wednesday by the Census Bureau, is part of a new supplemental poverty measure that takes into account medical costs and work-related expenses.
From 2009 to 2011, the average official poverty rate was 15 percent. Using the supplemental measure, the poverty rate jumps to 15.8 percent. Officials estimated that about 15.1 percent of the population, or 46.6 million people, were below the poverty line in 2011. With the supplemental measure, that number jumps to 49.7 million, or 16.1 percent of the population.
"There are several important differences between the official and supplemental poverty measures," said Kathleen Short, a U.S. Census Bureau economist and the report's author, in a statement. "For instance, the supplemental measure uses new poverty thresholds that represent a dollar amount spent on a basic set of goods adjusted to reflect geographic differences in housing costs. The official poverty thresholds are the same no matter where you live."
While the official estimate factors in only pre-tax money income, the new measure considers in-kind benefits such as school lunches and housing assistance, and it factors in expenses such as childcare and work transportation.
About 28 percent of Latinos were categorized as poor in 2011 under the new measure, compared with 25.4 percent using the official formula. While about 14.6 percent of native-born residents were considered poor using the supplemental measure, that jumps to 25.8 percent among foreign-born residents, and a whopping 31.9 percent for non-citizens. It is 18.3 percent among naturalized citizens.
While the official measure will not be discontinued, the supplemental poverty measure will be used to give lawmakers at the national and state level a way to evaluate the success of anti-poverty programs.
Hispanics fared worse than average, in part due to limited immigrant access to healthcare and other government programs. Though the economy is slowly picking up and unemployment is ticking down, higher living costs and other expenses offset those gains.
Full-time and part-time workers are also more likely to be below the poverty line than in 2010.
California, followed by the District of Columbia, Arizona, Florida and Georgia top the list using the new supplemental poverty measure, due in part to a high cost of living. Several of those states, specifically California, Florida and Arizona, have significant immigrant populations, and immigrants are more likely to be poor than native-born residents.
The official estimate, which uses one poverty measure regardless of geographic location, put rural states with low housing costs such as Mississippi and New Mexico at the top.