Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Flaws in data make in hard to have Kids Count

As a part of the Annie E. Casey's 2009 Kids Count Report, the Foundation included a special report that talked about the lack of good poverty data. The report pointed to an outdated measurement of poverty that our government still uses that hasn't been updated since the 1960's. The Foundation says that the lack of good data hurts the cause of helping vulnerable children in the states.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Google News, reporter David Crary talked to the Casey Foundation Senior Vice President, Patrick McCarthy.

In its special report on national data, the Casey Foundation said "perhaps the single most glaring shortfall comes in our efforts to measure poverty, the key performance indicator that rises above all others in its impact on children's futures."

The poverty formula still used by the federal government, which Casey called "thoroughly outdated," was developed in the 1960s. It calculates the cost of a basic grocery budget for a given family size and multiplies the total by three because food, in the '60s, represented one-third of a typical family budget.

The formula has not been recalculated since then even though, according to Casey, food now accounts for only about one-seventh of a typical family's budget.

The formula takes no account of child care, transportation, health insurance, and certain government benefits such as food stamps and housing vouchers. Also — except for Alaska and Hawaii — it does not reflect regional differences in the cost of living.

McCarthy said the National Academy of Sciences has developed some recommendations for a new formula that would take many of these additional factors into consideration, and a bill reflecting the proposals has been introduced in Congress.

Skeptics in various camps worry that any changes might cause harm by either increasing or decreasing the number of families officially defined as poor, said McCarthy. "But the reality is, we need an accurate count."

The poverty measure — used to determine eligibility for various benefits — has been a source of concern to many advocacy groups over the years.

Kinsey Dinan, a senior policy associate with the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, said the current system potentially disadvantages families that don't receive substantial government assistance and those living in areas with high living costs.

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