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Policy Corner

APA urges congress to improve poverty measurements and expand educational opportunities for those with low-income

By Krysta Jones

The current economic downturn brings light to those that are unable to cover basic expenses, and encourages us to think about solutions to provide access to employment and educational opportunities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 35.9 million people live below the poverty line in America, including 12.9 million children. Unfortunately, our current poverty measures are based on an outdated calculation; disregarding geographical differences and the changes in the American budget over time. Additionally, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program recipients should have more access to educational opportunities; allowing them to leave poverty.

PI-GRO supports the Measuring American Poverty Act (H.R. 2909/S. 1625), which would ensure that modern measures of poverty accurately assess the prevalence of poverty in America through the consideration of a number of important factors, including family size, composition, geographic region, and housing status.

In March 2010, APA submitted report language to Congress urging the Census Bureau to develop a supplemental statistical poverty measure to complement the current official measure. APA also urged the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to develop, maintain, and continue research to improve the annual production of supplemental poverty thresholds; and work with the National Academy of Sciences to design a measure to gauge decent living standards. This research is critical to understanding poverty and its impact on health, wellbeing, and the sound development of children and families.

APA also submitted congressional testimony on expanding the TANF program. This critical program provides assistance to low income individuals and families. Since 1996, the TANF program has focused almost exclusively on “Work First” policies, which reward high work participation rates. Expanding the TANF program to focus on education and training may result in better economic outcomes (e.g., likelihood of employment, income, less financial hardship), more social and psychological resources (e.g., greater sense of control, more social support), and fewer health risk behaviors (e.g., less smoking, greater exercise) (Ross & Wu, 1995).

APA will continue to advocate for improved research on poverty, support for safety net programs, and solutions to eliminate poverty.


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We all have a role to play in the political process. It is important that psychology play an integral part of SES-related legislation and regulations on these issues. APA works closely with decision-makers on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies on policies. As we continue to expand our SES advocacy, now is your chance to make sure your voices are heard. Become a Key Contact for the SES Key Contact Program. The purpose of the SES Key Contact Program is to educate APA members interested in SES issues about legislation on Capitol Hill, mobilize members interested in SES to serve as resources to Members of Congress and their staffs, and encourage members to contact Congress before important votes to ensure SES-related viewpoints are heard. As a Key Contact, you will receive up-to-date information on SES policy, periodic alerts to let you know when action is needed to support SES issues, and advocacy tips.

For more information on the SES Key Contact Program, please contact Krysta Jones by e-mail or (202) 336-5931.