Poverty ensnared more Americans in 2011 than were recorded in the official poverty rate for that year, under an experimental measure that takes into account regional cost differences and expenses for "critical goods and services."
The supplemental poverty measure, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Wednesday, estimated that 49.7 million people, or 16.1 percent of the nation's population, met the poverty threshold in 2011.
Under the official rate, released in September, 46.6 million, or 15 percent, were impoverished.
Neither measurement was significantly different from the rates reported in 2010, the report said. This is the second year the bureau has released a supplemental poverty measure.
The supplemental measure, for the first time, includes poverty estimates for the states, using a three-year average from 2009 to 2011. New York was among 14 states -- most in the Northeast and West -- that had higher poverty rates under the supplemental measure.
New York's official poverty rate in 2011 was 16 percent, but jumped to 17.8 percent under the supplemental one. The report cited geographic differences in housing costs and other expenses, such as taxes and medical costs, as causal factors for the region's higher supplemental poverty rates.
Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, said the supplemental measure is a "step in the right direction" to an accurate measure of poverty on high-cost Long Island. She said, though, that more needs to be done.
Other census data indicate that Long Island's official poverty rate in 2011 was 6.6 percent. The bureau's supplemental measure provides only state and national estimates.
"I think the actual poverty measure has to be adjusted further to reflect legitimate differences in the regional cost of living," Kamer said. "Housing costs are a big factor on Long Island, but also utility and transportation costs are very high," as well as child care.
The supplemental poverty measure grew out of concerns that the formula used for calculating the official rate was outdated and did not take into full account families' necessary expenses or factor in government assistance that helps lift some families out of poverty.
Under the official poverty formula, a family of two adults and two children is considered poor if their household income was $22,811 or less in 2011. The formula has been largely unchanged, except for inflation adjustments, since it was adopted in the mid-1960s.The supplemental measure grew out of recommendations from a government-funded National Academy of Sciences panel in 1995.
"One of the goals of the NAS panel was to produce a measure of poverty that explicitly accounted for government spending aimed at alleviating the hardship of low-income families," the bureau said in its report. The supplemental measure also factors in expenses, such as income taxes, transportation and health-care costs. Those are not included in the official poverty measurement.