Salvation Army Is Measuring Poverty In Real Time

Here is an example of an innovative community-level data project that will lead to better policy decisions and increased support for the many services that SA offers. I can easily relate this to farmers markets data collection and found particular interest in the key indicators chosen and in this line: “a result due in part to the lack of information in the public domain, but also, the lack of uniform reporting that exists on both a national and local scale”, which also remains a problem for grassroots markets and other food initiatives.

This story also illustrates what could very well be the next step to Farmers Market Metrics: collected indexes that show a larger system inequity or effect,  possible once we establish which metrics are best compiled for different system measures. Those system measures can come from the work done by Center for Whole Communities and their Whole Measures, which were part of the initial research done for FMM.

 

The Salvation Army has rolled out a new tool for measuring poverty across time and geographic regions.

Out of the 600-plus services that the Salvation Army tracks — everything from the number of toys given out at centers across the country — the team of 30 researchers selected seven indicators of poverty for the index: meals, groceries, assistance for medical needs, utility payments, furniture, clothing and housing…

The index enlists Salvation Army data collected from the roughly 30 million Americans who receive assistance with the organization each year. Out of the 600-plus services that the Salvation Army tracks — everything from the number of toys given out at centers across the country — the team of 30 researchers selected seven indicators of poverty for the index: meals, groceries, assistance for medical needs, utility payments, furniture, clothing and housing. Together, these data points form a score within the index that’s been plotted to show month-to-month changes both nationwide and within each state, between 2004 and 2015. The result is a highly interactive graphic that shows a number of interesting trends, including which states haven’t returned to pre-recession levels of need: Pennsylvania, Indiana, Nevada, Michigan Kansas and Minnesota…

A decade’s worth of data in the index revealed a number of curious trends, including a consistent uptick in demand for assistance on utility bills in springtime. “You’d think it’d be the opposite, because it’s warmer weather,” says Osili. The data analysts at Indiana University went to their colleagues at the Salvation Army, who soon enough arrived at an explanation. “In many communities, particularly in the Northern part of the United States, it’s against the law to turn off somebody’s utilities during cold weather,” says Lt. Colonel Ron Busroe of the Salvation Army. “So in April, when it is springtime, people are coming to us to get their utilities paid.”

Another observation illuminated by the index: a September back-to-school bump in service needs at Salvation Army centers everywhere. Those are just a couple of the discoveries that have Dr. Osili excited about what could blossom from this collaboration between university researchers and a sprawling service provider. “It was a revelation and showed the need for these kinds of partnerships, because on our own we would not have immediately or intuitively thought of that.”

Source: Salvation Army Is Measuring Poverty In Real Time – Next City

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