The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis and The Salvation Army have launched a tool designed to track basic human needs more quickly than by conventional government data. The Human Needs Index focuses on seven indicators, which are broken down nationally and by state.
The needs represented are:
- meals provided
- medical assistance
- help with energy bills
They were selected from over 230 variables already tracked by the Salvation Army. The data go back more than a decade.
Currently, poverty is tracked mainly through annual reports from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly unemployment data and a monthly report outlining usage of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which has a three-month lag. Federal statistics indicate 45 million Americans live in poverty.
IU Philanthropy School Dean Amir Pasic says "poverty is among the most complex issues facing society. 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."
IU and the Salvation Army call the HNI a "powerful complementary" tool that delivers data with the "immediacy and accessibility that other measurements lack." It will offer insight into state and regional-level variances such as weather conditions and disasters.
IU officials are please with the footprint the Salvation Army covers. Philanthropy School Director of Research Una Osili says "since the Great Recession, there is growing attention to poverty and vulnerability in the United States, which is still at high levels in some areas. The Salvation Army has a presence in communities across the country, urban and rural, and has historically collected very timely information on the provision of housing, food and many other aspects of human need, allowing the HNI to draw on data that has not previously been available."