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August 29, 2007

Poverty Trends

Right. The argument about whether the poverty measure is an accurate measure of poverty is an interesting one (though it's worth saying that the alternate measure developed by the National Academy of Sciences returned a higher poverty estimate, and when you poll Americans on how much nmoney a family needs, they give way high responses), but it's not super important. The current poverty measure tracks how many people live below a somewhat arbitrary, but certainly quite low, yearly income. When that number is bigger, it means more people making very little money. Whether this is a precise definition of what we want to call "poverty," rather than "very low yearly income," is interesting, but not relevant to the trend lines. If you are interested in this argument, though, John Cassidy wrote a great article on the poverty measure for The New Yorker that's worth reading.

August 29, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

The official federal poverty line was set in 1968 at three times the cost of an "emergency" diet (wherein you may not even buy a can of beans; only dried beans). This line was developed in 1955 when, I have to suppose, it happened to fit.

I move that the official poverty line of the United States be immediately raised to SIX times the cost of an emergency diet -- more in line with the realities of 2007 (meaning $40,000 for a family of four -- see the 2002 book, Raise the Floor for comprehensively worked out details). :-)

Posted by: Denis Drew | Aug 29, 2007 3:46:52 PM

I would say that the argument over "is 1968 food cost the right measure" is a fairly technical one; however, the "it's a pre-aid number" is not. The fact that poverty statistics don't include public assistance makes the assistance look like it does little good, when in fact it can do a lot of good.

Posted by: SamChevre | Aug 29, 2007 4:07:07 PM

I believe a realistic poverty number (see Raise the Floor) would be double the current number.

When it comes to helping people catch on that America has to do unionization the way it is done around the world -- sector wide collective bargaining or rules that nonunion firms work under collectively bargained agreements of unionized firms -- then I will take 25% of Americans living under the poverty line if not for assistance (food stamps, etc.) as a very dramatic educational tool.

Posted by: Denis Drew | Aug 29, 2007 4:50:25 PM

"however, the "it's a pre-aid number" is not. The fact that poverty statistics don't include public assistance makes the assistance look like it does little good, when in fact it can do a lot of good."

Exactly! How can we work out how much tax money should be spent upon alleviating poverty if we're not measuring how much poverty has been alleviated by the tax money which is already being spent?

The poverty number does not include the EITC, housing vouchers....oh, what has John Edwards called for as measures to alleviate poverty? Increases in the EITC and housing vouchers! Which aren't measured (however much they would reduce actual poverty: I think both are a good idea) in our calculations of how much poverty there is!

Apologies, but even Max Sawicky agreed with me on this one: US poverty statistics are simply not up to scratch.

Posted by: Tim Worstall | Aug 29, 2007 5:03:01 PM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 6:46:53 AM

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