Child Poverty: Why Measurement Matters

Children in Poverty According to Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2020

Screenshot of SPM Child Poverty Rates

The way poverty is measured plays a role in the distribution of emergency relief during periods of economic instability. What policymakers mean when they talk about poverty has implications for the function and scope of the social safety net in ensuring children and families have the resources necessary for an adequate standard of living.

The share of children in poverty is often quantified according to the official poverty measure based on federal poverty thresholds. Developed in 1963, this measure compares a family’s pre-tax cash income against an inflation-adjusted threshold derived from the cost of a minimally adequate diet. It does not account for in-kind resources, non-food expenses, or geographic variations in the cost of living.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) was developed to address shortcomings of the official poverty measure by accounting for a range of common expenditures and government benefits. Additionally, the SPM adopts a broader view of resource and expense sharing among individuals living together, extending the definition of a family to include unmarried partners and their children, along with unrelated and foster children. SPM thresholds also are adjusted according to whether a family rents or owns their home.

The California Poverty Measure (CPM) builds on the SPM method, with adjustments tailored to the state’s unique population, policies, and benefits. For example, the CPM incorporates California-specific safety net supports, correction for survey underreporting of program participation, and finer geographic detail in housing cost adjustments.

Read more about how poverty in the United States is measured and why it matters.

Also learn more about these and other measures of economic well-being available on

Children’s Health Resource

A new PRB Population Bulletin, “Dying Young in the United States,” spotlights the wide gap in death rates between Americans under age 25 and their peers in other wealthy countries. Explore why policies that reduce child poverty, address interlocking systems of racial/ethnic discrimination, and improve health care access for all families could lower the country’s disproportionately high death rate.

Recently Released Data

We recently released data about intimate partner violence and family income and poverty. See links to the latest here.

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