Ask any scientist or researcher and they’ll tell you: measurement matters. While one might commonly think of a biologist or an astronomer calibrating instruments to arrive at more accurate observations, that truth extends to the social sciences as well, where better, more robust measures can yield new insights into economic conditions.
For instance, a more comprehensive measure of poverty – known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) – demonstrates that New Hampshire’s poverty rate is much higher than typically thought. New SPM data released last week by the US Census Bureau indicate that New Hampshire’s poverty rate for the 2011-2013 period was 10.5 percent, 2.2 percentage points higher than the rate under the traditional, official poverty measure for that time frame. It also suggests that approximately 138,000 Granite Staters lived in poverty during that period, an increase of roughly 29,000 people or nearly 27 percent over the number living in poverty under the traditional measure.
Economists and other experts have long understood that that official measure of poverty suffers from significant shortcomings. It both fails to account properly for all of the costs people face and neglects the fact that certain parts of the country can be far pricier than others. The SPM attempts to address these fundamental flaws and to assess more precisely the resources available within families to meet basic needs, counting not just income, but the cash value of benefits like nutrition assistance or housing subsidies.
These adjustments have a distinct impact in New Hampshire, which was one of just 13 states where the poverty rate was higher under the SPM than under the official measure. In contrast, some 26 states enjoyed lower poverty rates under the SPM, while, in the remaining 11, there was no statistically meaningful difference between the two measures. The reasons for the differences among the states are uncertain, given the data available from the Census Bureau, but the agency’s analysis of national level data reveal that out-of-pocket medical expenditures as well as work expenses can drive up poverty rates under the SPM. It may also be telling that many of the 13 states with heightened rates are concentrated in the Northeast, which tends to have a higher overall cost of living.
The latest Supplemental Poverty Measure data, when combined with traditionally measured poverty rates that are still higher than pre-recession levels in New Hampshire, suggests that much remains to be done to ensure greater economic security for all Granite Staters.