North Carolina has numerous programs that aim to improve the lives of children and their families living in poverty, but how do you quantify the difference the programs make? A report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation – “Measuring Access to Opportunity in the United States” – demonstrates that without interventions, the state’s child poverty rate would be more than double from 17% to 35%.
Laila Bell with NC Child says the value in the report is an understanding of how programs can enact change in the lives of children, “What it’s really showing us is that we have the tools that can really help make sure that we are keeping kids out of poverty and really helping to avoid some of those preventable long term costs.”
Today’s report uses the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) developed by the U.S. Census, which Bell says provides a more complete picture of how families fare, when compared to the current method of measuring the impact of programs. According to the nonpartisan NC Child recent changes to the state’s child care subsidy program represent one example of how recent policy decisions in the state are making it difficult for families living in poverty to get ahead or even survive.
The current method used to measure poverty was developed in the 1960s, and according to the U.S. Census sets a standard of $24,000 dollars a year for a family of four, regardless of where that family lives or accounting for inflation.
Laura Speer with the Annie E. Casey Foundation explains better measurement tools, such as the SPM, help make improvements in public programs, “Using the Supplemental Poverty Measure we can really see the successes and the limitations of the safety net resources that we’ve put into place. We can also see that these resources don’t go far enough. We still see that there are 13 million children below the poverty line.”
The SPM takes into account living costs such as medicine, housing, food and utilities and how those costs affect disposable income. It also accounts for how government programs such as SNAP help offset those costs. Bell says gaining a better picture of poverty in North Carolina helps to improve the economic future of the entire state, “We know that children really do their best when they live in financially secure families, and we all shoulder the burden when our children don’t have the opportunity to grow up and become productive citizens and members of our community. ”
The Annie E. Casey report recommends state and federal governments expand access to early childhood education, change tax credit policies to keep more money in the hands of struggling families, and streamline food and housing subsidies.