Each year a group of researchers led by Timothy Smeeding at the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) produces the Wisconsin Poverty Report detailing poverty trends using a Wisconsin-specific measure.
Wisconsin Poverty Measure
The Wisconsin Poverty Project came into being in late 2008, when a group of IRP researchers developed the Wisconsin Poverty Measure in order to gain a more accurate and timely assessment of poverty throughout the state at a time when the worst recession in the postwar era was gripping the nation.
The researchers’ efforts, which are in line with broader efforts, including federal development of the Supplemental Poverty Measure, sought to inform policy with up-to-date and place-specific data that go beyond the official statistics for Wisconsin. The project, which each year produces a Wisconsin Poverty Report, joins many other endeavors by University of Wisconsin System faculty and staff to improve the lives of people throughout the state in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.
Researchers and policymakers have long criticized the current official poverty measure for not accurately accounting for the contemporary needs and resources of American families, and have consequently called for improved measures. Critics assert that the official measure ignores noncash benefits and tax credits, uses an outdated (and substantially lower) poverty threshold based on a pattern of consumption in the 1960s, omits work-related expenses such as child care and health care costs, and fails to adjust for geographic differences in the cost of living.
After a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel offered an alternative method for measuring poverty that addresses many of these concerns, a number of scholars have developed alternative poverty measures based on the NAS method. In 2011, the federal government implemented the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which is close to NAS committee recommendations.
While IRP’s efforts to develop an alternative poverty measure for Wisconsin are in line with these broader efforts, we contribute to the field by applying these measures to a local area (Wisconsin) in ways that reflect the characteristics and policy interests of the state. One of our primary goals in developing the Wisconsin Poverty Measure is to serve as a model for other states and localities seeking to craft their own more meaningful measures of poverty. See the current Wisconsin Poverty Report for more detail on the Wisconsin Poverty Measure.