New Census data: poverty numbers have improved, but work is far from over

We all have a stake in making sure that Arkansas kids grow up in households that can afford the basics, like a nutritious diet, a decent place to live, and school clothes and supplies. The first of two major Census data sets released today shows improvements, but we still have a long way to go in making sure that our kids grow up in families that make enough money to make ends meet.

Poverty data for the nation inched down from 11.6 percent in 2014 to 10.4 percent in 2015. National median household incomes also improved by about 5 percent compared to last year. But, after adjusting for inflation, we still haven’t reached pre-recession levels. Unfortunately, median income grew slower in the South, where we saw an increase of only 2.9 percent.

Today’s update also includes the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which is different from normal poverty measurements because it also takes into account taxes, non-cash benefits like welfare, and cost of living differences. Nationally, the SPM decreased from 15.3 percent in 2014 to 14.3 percent in 2015. Without the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), an additional 9.2 million people (including 4.8 million children) would have fallen into poverty by this measure. That would have increased the SPM poverty rate by 2.9 percentage points.

We won’t be able to draw conclusions about long-term changes in poverty in Arkansas until Thursday, when the much larger American Community Survey (ACS) is released. The ACS is huge compared to the CPS, gives us much richer insight into state-specific poverty and income metrics and how we compare to other states. This larger survey will show poverty rates for women, children, and communities of color.

In the meantime, you can check out our blog on health care data in Arkansas, which was also released today.

Note: This is first in a four-part blog series on new poverty and health Census data. Stay tuned for several updates this Thursday, when even more data will be released.