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Poverty is up, but how much? Census tells two stories.

Almost 16 percent of Americans lived in poverty last year, according to new data released by the Census Bureau. The numbers were sharply higher than official rates, which reflect different measures.


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The way you measure poverty makes a big difference in the results you get.

The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that 15.8 percent of Americans lived in poverty last year, using an alternative gauge that differs sharply from the 13.2 percent official poverty rate the agency released last month.

The difference is even starker for some specific groups within America.

For example, Americans over age 65 have a poverty rate that's twice as high – 18.7 percent – using the alternative measure.

In all, 47.4 million Americans lived in poverty last year, or 7 million more than indicated in official poverty statistics last month.

Why the difference?

The official measure, created in 1955, does not factor in rising medical care, transportation, child care, or geographical variations in living costs. Nor does it consider non-cash government aid when calculating income. As a result, official figures released in September may have overlooked millions of poor people, many of them 65 and older.

So to help give a more rounded understanding of poverty in the country, the Census Bureau releases alternative measures developed by the National Academy of Sciences.

Here are the alternative poverty rates, followed by the official rate in parenthesis, for groups where the gap is significant:

• Single dads: 19.8 percent (versus 14.2 percent)

• Hispanic Americans: 29 percent (versus 23.2 percent)

• People in the West: 19 percent (versus 13.5 percent)

• People in the Northeast: 16.1 percent (versus 11.6 percent)

• People age 65 and up: 18.7 percent (9.7 percent)

The poverty jump for the West and Northeast reflects higher living costs in some of the most populated areas in those regions.


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