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New poverty numbers

Each year around this time the federal government releases the updated poverty figures. What do the latest numbers show? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“We’re around 15 percent for the poverty rate. The good news is that that has not gone up in the last three years. The bad news is that it’s still higher than where we were prior to the recession. In fact it’s about 2.5 percentage points higher than right before the recession.

“Now the fact that the rate is 15 percent doesn’t make everyone happy with that measure. There are some people who say that’s actually too high of a rate to accurately measure poverty. There are others who say it is too low.

“Those who say that it is too high recognize — and this is a true statement — that that rate does not include resources that a family — perhaps designated as poor — might receive to help them meet their needs. Things like food stamps. Things like access to Medicaid, other kinds of cash help. That rate doesn’t account for that.

“The rate only measures the resources that are available to the family that are from them working. So, those folks would say, ‘Hey, that rate is way too high.’ On the other hand, others say, ‘No, that rate’s too low,’ because really poverty depends on your perspective, where you are in the economic ladder. And these folks say that folks at the top of the economic ladder have really spurted ahead. Those at the bottom of the economic ladder, in many cases, have stayed stuck. That’s actually going to increase poverty in terms of your comparison to others, and so these folks say the rate should be a lot higher.

“We’re not going to solve that here, but the point is that there are actually many different perspectives on measuring poverty.”