Friday, September 25, 2009

Counting What Counts

By Frances Deviney, Ph.D.

New Census Bureau data shows that for the 10th year in a row Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the country, with one of every six kids uninsured. Nearly one of every four Texas kids lived in poverty in 2008 (e.g., $17,600 for a family of three).

As troubling as these numbers are, this data likely under represents the extent of the current problem for two important reasons.

First, the latest Census data does not cover 2009, and unemployment has been rising sharply in Texas this year, from 6.4 percent in January to 7.0 percent in July (the most recent month available). Economists tell us that poverty rises with rising joblessness and that increase is sharper for vulnerable groups like children.

Second, even once the data catches up to the recession, child poverty is likely even deeper than shown in these figures. The federal poverty measure is badly outdated and excludes many families struggling to cover basic expenses, effectively disqualifying them from receiving available food or housing assistance.

The Measuring American Poverty Act would update the poverty measure to include more realistic expenses (including health care and child care) and help us to accurately measure the effectiveness of our poverty reduction programs, such as Food Stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Shouldn’t we know how many people really need help and whether our help does any good?

Click here to read the full Op-ed