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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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U.Va. unveils new poverty measure

Monday, May 27, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

A new poverty measure developed by University of Virginia demographers shows Southside’s poverty rate is lower than under standard poverty measures.

The new Virginia Poverty Measure (VPM) is designed to more accurately reflect the economic distress among residents of the commonwealth, according to a news release from U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

The VPM improves standard poverty measurement by incorporating contemporary spending patterns; accounting for regional differences in the cost of living; and including in family resources the effects of taxes, governmental programs and medical expenses — all ignored in current official poverty statistics, the release states.

For 2011, Southside’s standard official Census Bureau poverty rate was 17.7 percent, but its VPM was 14.7.

The report classifies Southside as including these localities: Henry, Patrick, Franklin, Pittsylvania, Halifax, Charlotte, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Prince Edward, Mecklenburg, Lunenburg, Nottoway, Amelia, Dinwiddie, Brunswick, Greensville, Southhampton, Sussex, Prince George, Charles City, New Kent and Surry counties; and the cities of Martinsville, Danville, Colonial Heights, Petersburg, Emporia and Franklin.

Other regions that had lower 2011 poverty rates with VPM compared with the official poverty rate were Southwest; Northern Valley and Piedmont; South Valley and Piedmont; Richmond area; Northern Neck and Eastern Shore; and Western Hampton Roads.

Dustin Cable, a demographer at the Weldon Cooper Center, said in a phone interview that the significant declines in poverty rates for Southside and Southwest Virginia resulted primarily from the effect of VPM’s inclusion of a broader array of government anti-poverty programs, such as food stamps, housing assistance, school lunches and WIC.

WIC — which stands for Women, Infants and Children — provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk, according to a U.S. government website.

Accounting for a broader array of anti-poverty programs under the new measure also helps lower rates in the Northern Neck, the Valley and the Piedmont sections of Virginia, Cable stated in the release.

Regions that saw increases in their 2011 poverty rates with VPM compared with the official poverty rate were Beltway (official poverty rate 7.4 percent, VPM 12.3 percent); Fairfax (official poverty rate 6.4 percent, VPM 9.7 percent); Northern Virginia exurbs (official poverty rate 6.5 percent, VPM 9.4 percent); and Virginia Beach and Chesapeake (official poverty rate 9.0 percent, VPM 9.7 percent).

“Although Northern Virginia counties and cities enjoy some of the highest median incomes in the nation, the VPM shows that the extent of economic deprivation in the region is significantly greater than what official poverty statistics suggest,” a report Cable wrote says. “For example, by capturing the impact of the region’s high cost of housing, the VPM finds many more

Other findings include:

“The VPM does not differ substantially from the standard official poverty measure when measuring overall poverty for Virginia. Official poverty statistics in 2011 identify 11.6 percent of Virginians in poverty. The VPM finds 11.9 percent of Virginians (936,000 people) below the poverty line (an average of about $29,000 in annual income for a two-adult, two-child family). At a greater level of detail, however, significant differences are evident:

“The VPM poverty rate for children is dramatically lower than the official rate. Official statistics do not account for the impact of many government programs targeted favorably towards families with young children. By including these tax code provisions and in-kind benefits, the VPM recognizes the full range of resources available for families with young children.” (The news release listed the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps as examples.)

“By including calculations for taxes and adjustments for costs of living, the VPM classifies a greater number of people as ‘near poor.’ However, by including more government programs and subsidies for the poor, the VPM finds fewer Virginians in ‘deep poverty.’” (The news release stated that by including the costs of medical out-of-pocket expenses, more seniors are found to be in poverty.)

“Through the creation of the Virginia Poverty Measure, the commonwealth joins a handful of states taking steps to dramatically improve the way the nation has measured poverty for more than 50 years,” Qian Cai, director of the Cooper Center’s Demographics & Workforce Group, stated in the release. “The methodology developed in Virginia extends the work done earlier in other states, has the potential to be a national model and can be applied by U.Va. researchers to other states using state-specific data and conditions to understand poverty among their citizens.”

Data by localities is not available.


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