Study: Census severely overstates U.S. poverty

Government surveys significantly overstate the prevalence and depths of poverty in the U.S., new academic research has found.

The results will challenge the assumptions of both conservatives, who often argue that government programs have failed to alleviate poverty, and liberals, who claim that poverty has worsened because of conservative reforms to welfare programs.

Economists Bruce Meyer and Nikolas Mittag wrote in a working paper published Monday by the National Bureau for Economic Research that the census survey used to calculate poverty and the poverty rate is affected by widespread underreporting of use of government anti-poverty programs.

As a result, they write, the official poverty measure "severely understates income of those in deep poverty and thereby makes poverty look more severe and inequality look worse than it truly is."

They conclude that people responding to the ensus often do not respond to key questions or understate their participation in programs such as cash welfare, food stamps and housing assistance. Very poor people are more likely than others to misreport their use of such programs.