New Data Shows Social Programs Lifted 241,000 Kids Out of Poverty in Washington

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New Data Shows Social Programs Lifted 241,000 Kids Out of Poverty in Washington

By Lori Pfingst and Elena Hernandez - February 25, 2015

The well-being of our children is the most significant predictor of our long-term economic and social success. So when so many of our kids are experiencing economic hardship, it doesn’t bode well for Washington state. But the good news is that we already have tools to help provide children with the opportunities they need to thrive.A new KIDS COUNT report uses the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) – a companion to the official poverty measure – to examine the impact that social programs (Box 1) have on the economic well-being of children and families in Washington state. According to the SPM, over 455,000 children in Washington state – one in four (28 percent) – live in families experiencing economic hardship (Figure 1). Social programs, however, lifted 241,000 of these children out of poverty, cutting the rate by more than half (13 percent).

FIGURE 1.

KIDS COUNT SPM

The SPM was created in 2011 the by U.S. Census Bureau to provide a more detailed look at how children and families are faring than the official poverty rate allows. The SPM differs from the official poverty measure in a number of important ways:

  • The SPM provides a more accurate reflection of economic hardship by using updated data on what it takes to meet basic needs in each state;
  • The SPM calculates expenses by geographic location, recognizing cost-of-living differences across the states;
  • The SPM calculates income from all sources (earned income, cash assistance), as well as from non-cash benefits (food assistance), providing a more accurate reflection of family resources. It also shows how taxes and tax credits affect income.

Box 1.

SPM description box

Given the overwhelming evidence documenting the strong relationship between economic security and all other areas of well-being, progress in all of these areas can be accelerated if we meaningfully tackle systemic poverty.

This new data comes at an opportune time, as policymakers begin to put pen to paper in writing the state budget. Washington state can build on the success of social programs and further reduce poverty by making targeted investments in programs we know work well for children and families, including:

  • Fully funding the Working Families Tax Rebate, Washington state’s yet-to-be-funded version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, which, according to the SPM, is the most effective anti-poverty tool we have for kids and families;
  • Passing the Early Start Act so all kids have access to affordable, high-quality early learning opportunities while their parents work or look for a job; and

For more information about the Supplemental Poverty Measure and the impact of the social programs on child poverty nationwide, take a look at Measuring Access to Opportunity in the United States.