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Census sees 3 million more in poverty in 2012

The U.S. Census Bureau's supplemental poverty measure showed nearly 3 million more people were in poverty in 2012 than those recorded by the official poverty measure, through accounting for such expenses as taxes, work-related costs and out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Under the supplemental measure, released Wednesday, there were 49.7 million people nationwide in 2012 who met the poverty threshold of $23,283 for a family of four, or 16 percent of the nation's population.

That compared with 47 million people -- 15 percent -- who met the threshold under the official poverty measure the bureau announced in September. The 2012 percentages of both measurements were statistically unchanged from 2011, the bureau said.

The supplemental measure, which provided national and state data, also found that New York was among 13 states and Washington, D.C., whose poverty rates were higher than the nation's, a result of more expensive regional housing costs and other costs. The supplemental measure adjusts for regional cost differences, while the official poverty measure does not.

New York's supplemental poverty rate of 18.1 percent was higher than the state's official poverty rate of 16.5 percent. Both state rates were calculated using a three-year average of 2010-12.

John Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, pegged housing costs as one reason for the difference. He noted in an email that New York housing costs in 2010 were about 12.4 percent higher than the national average.

The official poverty measure includes only cash income and cash government benefits. The supplemental measure includes those but also takes into account noncash governmental assistance -- such as food stamps and other nutritional programs -- and tax credits, and subtracts such "necessary expenses" as taxes, work-related costs and out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Rizzo said the expenses weren't enough "to offset the relatively higher costs of living in New York State."

Hofstra University economics professor Martin Melkonian agreed, and criticized political discussions to reduce Social Security cost-of-living payments as "a terrible idea, given the . . . desperation we're seeing in a large portion of our population."

Concerned that poverty hadn't declined, Gwen O'Shea, president and chief executive of the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, said the supplemental measure highlights the "unbelievable impact" of government benefits "in moving people out of poverty and providing a safety net."

The Census Bureau reported that refundable tax credits reduced the supplemental poverty measure by 3 percentage points. It also noted that had Social Security payments not been added to income, the supplemental poverty measure would be 8.6 percentage points higher.

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