New 'Human Needs Index' to Measure U.S. Poverty and Its Effects

The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and the Salvation Army have announced the launch of a multi-dimensional index of basic human needs in the United States.

Designed to track on-the-ground indicators of poverty and its effects with less lag time than  traditional government data, the Human Needs Index (HNI) will aggregate data on seven services commonly delivered by nonprofits — meals provided, groceries, clothing, housing, furniture, medical assistance, and help with energy bills. To be published on a quarterly basis, the index will provide monthly national and state data since 2004, revealing variances in need at the state level due to a range of factors, including seasonal differences, historical regional disparities, and the effects of major disasters.

The services to be tracked were selected from more than two hundred variables as being the most representative of the self-identified basic needs of low-income families and individuals. The standardized index for the nation as a whole shows an increase in human needs since 2004, when the HNI stood at 1.8, to 2.8 in 2012. The HNI fell to 1.4 in 2014 but has ticked up again in 2015, to 1.5. The index includes an interactive map and chart that enable users to filter data by state, month, and year.

"Poverty is among the most complex issues facing society," said Amir Pasic, Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. "The Human Needs Index reflects that complexity by providing a better understanding of the multiple facets of need confronting poor individuals and families. Its sensitivity to changes in need based on actual service provider data offers insights into trends and patterns that can help inform decision making and the broader societal discussion about alleviating poverty."

"Human Needs Index to Provide New Look at Poverty." Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Salvation Army Press Release 10/07/2015. "Human Needs Index Fact Sheet." Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Salvation Army Fact Sheet 10/07/2015.