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Pittsburgh Perspectives  

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Friday, September 13, 2019  02:00 PM  (24)

The Supplemental Poverty Measure

Official poverty thresholds compiled annually by the Census Bureau are specific dollar amounts considered to be the minimum income levels to meet the basic needs of an individual or family unit.  These income thresholds are based on pretax income and vary by family size and composition. Official poverty thresholds do not take into account regional differences in the cost of living, nor do they take into account income from most government programs designed to assist low-income families and individual.

Since 2011, the Census Bureau has published Supplemental Poverty Measures (SPM), that vary across states and metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) within the United States. SPM-based poverty thresholds take into account regional differences in the cost of living and untaxed income received from many of the government programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals. In addition, the SPM uses an expanded definition of family units which include co-resident unrelated children, foster children, and unmarried partners and their relatives. Earlier this month, the Census Bureau released updated SPM values for 2018.


Census SPM

The SPM provides poverty thresholds for families in three distinct types of housing tenure: owners with mortgages, owners without mortgages and renters. For Pittsburgh in 2018, the SPM for two-adult, two-child families varied between $22,529 for owners without a mortgage to $26,015 for property owners with a mortgage. For each, the Pittsburgh region SPM-based poverty threshold was 7-8% lower than the corresponding SPM for the nation. 

The lower poverty thresholds estimated by the SPM mostly reflects typically lower cost of living in the Pittsburgh region. Regions that have significantly higher costs of living will have higher SPM thresholds and correspondingly larger alternative estimates of the population living in poverty. 

The Pittsburgh region has consistently lower SPM compared to other large MSAs. Among the 40 largest MSAs in the nation, Pittsburgh has the 2nd lowest SPM ($25,867) for renters in two-adult, two-child families. Only Cleveland ($25,794) has a lower SPM. Among all metropolitan areas in the nation, San Jose, California, has the single highest SPM ($42,543) for renters in comparable two-adult, two-child families. 

The Census Bureau compiles the SPM based on information collected in the 2018 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements (CPS ASEC). Data compiled here was released by the Census Bureau on September 10, 2019. 


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