Measuring poverty

America has an incredibly hard time judging who is poor, and who is simply lower-middle class.  Not only has this definition changed over time, as technology and the economy have shifted away from the original guideposts established in the 60s, it’s become embedded with measurements that don’t tell the entire story anymore:

“There is broad recognition that the current poverty line ($21,756 for a family of four in 2009) falls far below the amount of income needed to “make ends meet” at a basic level. When established in the early 1960s, the poverty line was equal to nearly 50 percent of median income. Because it has only been adjusted for inflation since then, and not for increases in mainstream living standards, the poverty line has fallen to just under 30 percent of median income. As a result, to be counted as officially “poor,” you have to be much poorer today, compared to a typical family, than you would have in the 1960s.”  [Source]

Measurements of poverty that exclude family resources and income from government programs systematically overstate the poverty rate.  However, those that ignore the increased cost of gaining access to employment and services – such as the fact that it is harder than ever to hunt for a job if you can’t go online and don’t have the computer literacy to conduct a search and navigate a web site – systematically understate the poverty rate.  The result is that some people who are officially counted as poor are managing fairly well, while others who are not counted as poor are facing almost insurmountable problems.


Next page:  The poverty trap

Back to Poverty


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