At the same time, the report shows that the number of elderly living in poverty is much higher than previously calculated.
The U.S. poverty rate, taken in September using the traditional measure, was at 15.1 percent. The new measure places U.S. poverty at 16 percent.
The new method of calculating poverty - meant to give a more accurate picture of deprivation in America - looks at factors that the traditional method does not.
For one thing, it takes into account the benefits that the poor receive - including food stamps, earned-income-tax credits, special aid to young mothers, and school meals.
On the other side of the ledger, the new method also calculates how much a family has to pay out to survive - including health-care costs, taxes, child care, and housing costs.
The traditional measure of poverty, which has been used for nearly 50 years, has long been criticized as failing to take a full measure of what it costs to live in America. It states that a family of four is poor if it makes less than $22,314 annually.
That older measure, based on how Americans lived in the 1960s, also fails to show that the cost of living in the nation varies widely depending on geography. For example, a Philadelphia apartment rent is higher than one in Bismarck, N.D.
"This much-improved poverty measure accounts for realistic needs and resources," said Curtis Skinner, director of family economic security at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
"The big takeaway from the report is that things are working. You can look at the effect on poverty of specific programs. It's not money thrown away."
Poverty for children under age 18 is 18 percent under the new calculation, compared with 22.5 percent under the traditional method.
Without food stamps, children's poverty would exceed 21 percent, census figures show. Without earned-income-tax credits for the poor, children's poverty would be more than 22 percent.
Stimulus money increased food stamps for Americans, noted Sheldon Danziger, director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan.
"This report shows that spending more on food stamps does have an effect," Danziger said.
Poverty experts said that could be important as Congress weighs cuts to the program and others benefiting the poor.
Critics talk of waste in such programs. But Carey Morgan, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, said that food-stamp fraud and waste in Pennsylvania accounts for 0.1 percent, one of the lowest rates in the nation.
"This report shows that people using these benefits are better off," Morgan said.
The report on the elderly is not as positive. The previous calculation of poverty among people age 65 and older was 9 percent. The new calculations place it at nearly 16 percent.
The difference is that the new calculations calibrate out-of-pocket medical costs that the elderly incur.
But, Short added, the elderly "have a lot of assets" that the poverty calculations do not take into account.
For many of the poor, life without food stamps would be unthinkable.
"If I didn't have them, I don't know how I'd survive," said Quintelina Lewis, a 68-year-old Chester woman living in poverty and raising her five grandchildren, aged 10 to 14.
"I can get milk, bread, meat, and cereal with food stamps. Basically, they keep the children fed."
Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "The Joint Custodian," at www.philly.com/jointcustodian