Roughly 70,000 fewer Iowans were living in poverty for the three-year period between 2009 and 2011 under an alternative method the government is using to measure economic well being.
The calculation could change the way that policymakers now see the state of their economies, as well as how to design anti-poverty measures.
The U.S. Census Bureau released figures Wednesday saying the three-year average for poverty in Iowa was 8.4 percent of the population, noticeably lower than the 10.7 percent official measure. This is the first time the government has used the supplemental method to measure poverty in the states.
Iowa was one of 26 states that had a lower poverty rate using the new method, rather than the official figure. Nationwide, the supplemental method shows a higher poverty rate than the official version. In Illinois, the alternative measurement also put poverty about a point higher, at 15 percent of the population.
For years, statisticians, advocates and policymakers have debated the best way to measure poverty. Some conservatives have argued government support, such as food stamps, should be taken into account. Others said not all costs on the expense side were being properly accounted for.
This new method deals with many of those concerns. It takes into account regional variations in basic costs, such as housing, according to Kathleen Short, a Census Bureau economist. It also factors in the value of in-kind benefits, such as school lunches, food stamps and refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is geared toward low-income families.
The cost of child care, taxes and other work-related expenses also are considered.
Mike Crawford, senior associate at the Des Moines-based Child & Family Policy Center, said the supplemental measure is probably more accurate. And he said the new figures demonstrate the value of anti-poverty measures such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.
“At the state level, I think it reaffirms to policymakers that they are doing things to help families,” he said.
He added that although the alternative measurement is lower than the official figure in Iowa, poverty is still too high.
Nationally, the supplemental measurement put the poverty rate for 2011 at 16.1 percent, a little more than the 15 percent official figure.
The new methodology’s impact on different age groups is more striking, however.
Using the alternative method, the poverty rate for people 65 and older is 15.1 percent, rather than the far lower 8.7 percent using the official measurement. Medical out-of-pocket expenses pushed more elderly into poverty, the government said.
This is the second year in which the government has provided the supplemental measure at the national level. Age and racial breakdowns weren’t available at the state level.
For those younger than 18, the new method puts the poverty rate at 18.1 percent, rather than the 22.3 percent official version.