Oregon State Researchers Develop State-Specific Poverty Measure

Researchers at Oregon State University, inspired by California and Wisconsin’s development of state-specific poverty measures, have created the Oregon Poverty Measure, according to a story published by the OSU Newsroom Oct. 9.    

This effort was made as a means to help supplement the federal official poverty measure. Using data from the supplemental poverty measure as well as state agency data, the Oregon Poverty Measure allows the state to gain a more detailed understanding of populations living in poverty.   

The official poverty measure tracks how many people across the nation fall under the federal poverty level. As of 2020, that level is $26,200 or less annual income for a family of four, or $12,760 for an individual. Knowing the number of people who live below the poverty line helps the government allocate funds for social service and safety net programs. However, using one measure across 50 states has its downfalls.    

There are several factors that contribute to inaccuracy in the Official Poverty Measure, the foremost being that the methods on which it is based were created in 1963 and, other than adjusting for inflation, there have been no significant updates made. While a federal Supplemental Poverty Measure was released in 2009 which broadened definitions and included policy-based resources such as the earned income tax credit, it relied on a Census Bureau survey not large enough to allow for analysis on a state-level.   

Leanna Giordono, who led analysis for the Oregon Poverty Measure as part of her post-doctoral research project, told Newsroom “It really is revisiting the question of: ‘Are basic food needs that we acknowledged in 1963 the best way to think about what a minimum income looks like?’ Probably not. We know that life has changed. We’re thinking about: ‘What does that poverty line look like and what should be informing it?’”  

Another failing of the federal measure is that it does not take into account the location of a family or individual. It assumes that basic income needs for a family in L.A. are the same as one living in Corvallis.   

The Oregon Poverty Measure addresses this by adjusting the poverty threshold for differences in housing costs based on location. With this data, the report showed that poverty in Oregon is concentrated in Southern Oregon, as well as specific parts of metro areas like North Salem and Notheast /East Portland.   

Not only does the Oregon Poverty Measure account for location, but it also uses administrative data from programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families,) both of which are administered by the Oregon Department of Human Services.   

Principal Investigator for the project and associate professor for the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State, David Rothwell, told Newsroom “We’re using the dollars that actually went out in Oregon to adjust the self-reported survey. We’re cross-validating a bunch of different sources to get what we think is a more true measure.”   

The initial report compared the findings of the Oregon Poverty Measure to the Official Poverty Measure for the years 2014 to 2018. The counts of total population are fairly close; however, the measures vary drastically on rates of poverty within groups of people. According to the federal measure, 19% of children and 7.8% of adults over the age of 64 were below the poverty line. In Oregon, those numbers were 13.3% and 11.9% respectfully. According to the Oregon Poverty measure, Black, Indigenous and Hispanic people did have higher rates of poverty than whites, however the differences are not as striking as those of the federal measure.   

The OSU report also highlighted real-world applications of the measure by analyzing the assistance afforded to those in poverty by safety net programs and policies. The report found that Social Security brought about 230,000 seniors in Oregon above the poverty line, and tax credits brought around 58,000 children out of poverty.   

To view the full report, click here  

By Kyra Young