Maybe poverty in your state isn't as bad as you think.
An in-depth new interactive from Jake Grovum, a reporter at Pew's Stateline project, illustrates just how much the safety net brings down the poverty rate. His interactive project has a whole series of maps and charts that show the difference between the Census' official poverty rate — the one you hear announced once a year in September — and the Census' supplemental poverty rate — a less-touted figure that is released a couple of months later.
As of 2013, the official poverty rate was 14.5 percent, compared to 15.5 for the supplemental measure. That's not a huge difference, but this map shows some of the drastic ways in how the supplemental poverty rate differs from the actual poverty rate by state.
This map illustrates what my colleague Dylan Matthews has explained before: that the official poverty rate does a poor job of capturing the how government programs help America's poorest people cope. The supplemental rate includes non-cash government programs, like food stamps and rent assistance, and it also takes geographic variations in housing costs into account (unlike the official poverty rate). The official poverty thresholds simply apply across the nation, regardless of state. Likewise, states with lots of people on food stamps won't have all of that extra household "income" reflected in their poverty rates.
So a place like Mississippi, where many residents are on food stamps, will have a much lower supplemental measure than official — 15.3 compared to 20.7 percent. And California, where housing is expensive, will have an official poverty measure that understates its low-income people's real economic problems by more than 7 percentage points.
Correction. Due to a typo, this piece originally stated the supplemental rate doesn't include non-cash government programs, when of course it does.