The U.S. Census Bureau released data using new measures of poverty, changing the picture of those who are poor.

The U.S. Census Bureau released data on Monday using new supplemental measures of poverty for the first time in over four decades, changing the picture of those who are poor.

Under the new measures, the number of children age 18 and below living in poverty fell to 17 percent (7.98 million), while the official poverty rate for this group in 2010 is 21 percent (9 million). Nationally, the number of Americans living in poverty rose to a record 16 percent  (49 million), which is higher than the official 2010 rate of 15 percent (46.2 million), as reported in September.

The new data is intended to supplement the official poverty data, and will not serve as the official figures used to determine Title I grants and Head Start eligibility. There is currently a two year lag in the time Census Bureau poverty data is used to determine Title I allocations, even if the new measures were intended to be used for them.

Title I funding varies widely between states because it is based on a number of factors, including the average per-pupil expenditures in each state as well as a weighted average of either the actual number or percentage of poor students eligible for Title I funds. The new data will undoubtedly add to policy debates since policymakers are trying to figure out how to best serve the students that need the most assistance. Since student achievement levels are so closely scrutinized, policymakers and school administrators need to be aware of all factors impacting a student’s achievement.  

The official poverty rate looks mainly at the average grocery costs for a family as a percentage of their income. It does not take into account housing, transportation, day care, medical expenses, or noncash government assistance for the poor such as food stamps and the earned income tax credit, which help lift people out of poverty. The measures used to determine poverty rates have largely remained unchanged for decades. For a family of four in 2010, the poverty income threshold was $22,300.

Under the new measures, the poverty income threshold for a family of four increased to $23,854. The new measure considers benefits such as food stamps, free and reduced-price school meal programs and the supplemental nutrition for Women, Infants and Children. Children are more likely to receive assistance from social programs than other segments of the population, and many experts are attributing the reduction of child poverty rates in the new data to such programs. The new measure also considers the costs of basic necessities, such as shelter and child care, which can affect a family’s budget more than food.

The U.S. Census Bureau considers the supplemental poverty measure to be a work in progress, but expect to hear more ways this new data could impact education as it is analyzed.