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November 8, 2013

The U.S. Census Bureau typically judges poverty based on income and household size, using the same thresholds across the country. For the third year in a row, it has released what it is calling “supplemental poverty measures,” which take into account government benefits that are available in a specific geographic area, as well as the cost of living.

Doing so changes New Jersey’s official poverty rate of 10.7 percent to 15.5 percent. The national poverty rate is 15.1 (without supplemental measures) to 16.1 percent (with supplemental measures).

The supplemental measures reflect both a decrease in the poverty rate -- due to available government subsidies such as the national school lunch program, unemployment insurance, housing subsidies, social security, and other government programs -- as well as the local cost of living. It seems New Jersey’s high cost of living outweighs any governmental benefits.

That’s not the case for all states: 28 states actually improved their poverty rates due to government and other programs. These include some very poor states, such as Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana, as well as relatively wealthy states like Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.

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