In 2009, after she joined the Department of Commerce under President Barack Obama, Ms. Blank set to work prodding the bureaucracy to implement something new.
“Through her leadership, the Supplemental Poverty Measure was born,” David Johnson, the census bureau official in charge of computing the new measure, said in a phone interview.
Beginning in 2011, the new measure joined the old one as features of annual Census Bureau reports. It changed the poverty calculus in numerous ways, for instance by using as a basis not merely food budgets but also an array of consumer expenditures, including on clothing and shelter. In addition, it updated the view of a family’s financial resources to take account of government benefits not issued as cash.
Last year, when the Census Bureau wanted to determine the effect of the 2021 child tax credit on child poverty, it was able to do so thanks to the Supplemental Poverty Measure. (The tax credit helped bring child poverty to its lowest level on record, 5.2 percent, the bureau found. )
“Becky Blank was a giant,” Mr. Greenstein said. “The introduction of the Supplemental Poverty Measure was probably without question the most important new development in poverty measurement in over 30 years.”
It attracted bipartisan support. “There’s widespread agreement, that’s increased over the years, that the Supplemental Poverty Measure is a more accurate measure of people’s actual financial status,” said Ron Haskins, a former policy analyst for Republicans, including the former House speaker Paul Ryan and President George H.W. Bush.
Rebecca Margaret Blank was born on Sept. 19, 1955, in Columbia, Mo., to Uel and Vernie (Backhaus) Blank. She grew up in Roseville, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities. Her father worked on behalf of the University of Minnesota to study and improve the local tourism industry. Her mother was a homemaker.