The Huge Drop in Child Poverty ‘Is a Statistical Blip’: Analyst

The Huge Drop in Child Poverty ‘Is a Statistical Blip’: Analyst


We started the week by telling you about an “astounding” decline in child poverty since 1993, as measured by one metric, the federal government’s Supplemental Poverty Measure. But over at the People’s Policy Project think tank, policy analyst Matt Bruenig greeted that data with some skepticism —and makes the argument that the heralded gains aren’t real.

“Whenever you see poverty reports like this, especially ones that seem to have a surprising conclusion, you should ask yourself whether something strange is going on with the poverty metric being used and how it compares to other ways of measuring the poverty rate,” Bruenig wrote earlier this week. “I hate debating poverty measurements because the whole thing is so arbitrary and the underlying data driving the analysis in the US is so patchy, but when something like this comes out, I have no choice.”

Bruenig on Tuesday noted that the Supplemental Poverty Measure data used in the study that found a dramatic drop in child poverty is an outlier compared to other measures of child poverty, which have not fallen nearly as much over the past few decades. Combined with other problems in measuring the benefit of key anti-poverty tax credits, Bruenig concluded that “it’s not clear we’ve reduced child poverty much at all, certainly not in the relative poverty measures typically used for these kinds of questions.”

He followed up that analysis with another, published Thursday, that argues that the tremendous reduction in child poverty described in the original report by Child Trends is simply the result of a “series break,” or a change in methodology and questions by the Census Bureau, the source of the underlying data.

“If you remove this obviously bullshit statistical blip from the report, there is basically no child poverty decline at all after the year 2000,” Bruenig writes. You can read his analysis here.

Update: In an additional note about their methodology published Friday, Dana Thomson and Renee Ryberg, the lead authors of Child Trends report, stick to their guns. “The SPM provides the most comprehensive accounting of the resources available to a family, as it includes both employment-based income and government aid, subtracts out the cost of necessary expenses, and adjusts for cost of living,” they write. They add that the Census Bureau’s methodological changes in 2014 and 2018 “essentially cancel each other out” and, while those changes should have been accounted for, “they do not distort the big picture: Using the adjusted series, child poverty still declined by 59.4 percent (compared to the original estimate of 58.9%).”