Weldon Cooper Center Develops New Poverty Measure

May 29, 2013

Credit Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service

A 1960s era poverty measurement is being replaced by one that more accurately reflects Virginians’ living standards and spending patterns. 

If you were alive in the 1960s, you know a lot of things have changed since then.  But criteria used to determine poverty hasn’t.  Dustin Cable is a demographer with the University of Virginia.

“Food costs have declined as a percentage of family budgets and medical expenses have dramatically increased.”

So Cable and his colleagues at UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service came up with a new model, one Cable says paints a more accurate picture of poverty in 2013.

“It uses  updated income thresholds that better reflect the needs of contemporary American families and adjusts those thresholds for regional differences in the cost of living.”

Using this new measure, Cable says poverty in Northern Virginia, which has some of the highest median incomes in the nation, rises from 7.4 to 12.3 percent-a 66 percent increase.  Meanwhile, in Southside and Southwestern Virginia, the poverty rate goes down compared to the official measure because of a lower cost of living and a wider array of government programs such as food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and housing assistance. Cable says researchers can take the new measure and apply it to other states using their specific data to understand poverty among their residents.  .