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University of Wisconsin–Madison
Poverty-related issues in the news, from the Institute for Research on Poverty

Category: Editorial/Opinion

Opinions: Poverty Measurement

  • Poverty and recovery, Editorial, January 19, 2011, New York Times: “In 2008, the first year of the Great Recession, the number of Americans living in poverty rose by 1.7 million to nearly 47.5 million. While hugely painful, that rise wasn’t surprising given the unraveling economy. What is surprising is that recent census data show that those poverty numbers held steady in 2009, even though job loss worsened significantly that year. Clearly, the sheer scale of poverty – 15.7 percent of the country’s population – is unacceptable. But to keep millions more Americans from falling into poverty during a deep recession is a genuine accomplishment that holds a vital lesson: the safety net, fortified by stimulus, staved off an even more damaging crisis…”
  • Where does the poverty line truly lie?, By Andrew Chambers, January 19, 2011, The Guardian: “Thailand is a development success story. The country is on target to meet or exceed all its millennium development goals (MDGs), and absolute poverty ($1 a day) is now less than 2%. However, do these statistics accurately measure what poverty is, and what is the next step in poverty reduction for middle-income countries like Thailand? How to define and measure poverty, therefore, is not just a dry academic debate, as these decisions greatly affect what policies are pursued…”

Editorial: Poverty Measurement in the US

Who is poor? Many of America’s neediest may look a lot like you, Editorial, January 7, 2011, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Americans fuss and fight over many aspects of public policy, from climate change to health care reform. But here’s something about which there’s not much argument: If you fall below the federal threshold for ‘poverty,’ you are poor. You aren’t just needy or disadvantaged. At best, you hover somewhere between broke and destitute. It’s easy to prove. All you need is a pencil and the back of an envelope. The federal poverty threshold set by the U.S. Census Bureau for a family of four in 2009 was $21,954 a year. Deduct from that $650 a month for rent and utilities, $20 a day for food and $138 a month for two 30-day bus passes to get to work, and you end up with the princely sum of $14.72 a day to cover everything else – child care, household and personal care products, clothing, haircuts, school supplies, home furnishings and health care…”

Increasing Utility and Transportation Fees – Colorado

  • Rising fees for utilities may be slowing recovery, economists say, By Colleen O’Connor, November 7, 2010, Denver Post: “Even in one of the most contentious election cycles in recent history, most politicians agree on one thing: It’s a mistake to raise taxes during an economic recession or early in a recovery. But equally mandatory fees have quietly and relentlessly crept up in Colorado and across the nation, and economists say they could be slowing the economic recovery. Rates for electricity, water, sewage treatment and phones – even bus fares – have risen during the recession…”
  • Nickel and dimed by increasing fees, Editorial, November 9, 2010, Denver Post: “Unemployment is high. Pay raises, for those lucky enough to be getting them, are low. The economy is barely bubbling back to life, yet utility and public transportation rates have soared in the past few years in Colorado, making us wonder if those in charge are tone deaf to the pressures faced by working families. A story in The Sunday Denver Post by reporter Colleen O’Connor documented some of those increases, which include an average 15 percent retail electricity increase from Xcel between 2009 and 2010…”

Homelessness and Housing First – Los Angeles, CA

  • Program seeks to aid hard-core homeless, By Alexandra Zavis, November 9, 2010, Los Angeles Times: “Prominent business leaders are putting their weight behind a plan that they say could make a major dent in homelessness in Los Angeles County, embracing a strategy that will face significant political opposition. The blueprint they plan to unveil Tuesday seeks to put a permanent roof over the heads of the most entrenched street dwellers, then provide them as much counseling and treatment as they will use. Because the chronically homeless take up a disproportionate share of resources, the plan’s authors argue that focusing on housing them will ultimately free up services for the many more people who need only temporary help to get back on their feet…”
  • Solving homelessness will require cooperation, Editorial, November 9, 2010, Los Angeles Times: “Los Angeles remains the nation’s homelessness capital, with almost 48,000 people living around the county on streets, in cars and in shelters, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority. About a fourth of them are chronically homeless, burdened in many cases by physical and mental ailments that make it hard for them to reintegrate into society. The magnitude and intractability of the problem haven’t stopped policymakers and homeless advocates from offering plan after plan for improving the situation, but none has made much of a dent in the homeless population. On Tuesday, yet another group will weigh in: the Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness, a project organized by the local branches of the Chamber of Commerce and the United Way…”

Poverty and Hunger – Philadelphia, PA

  • Hunger in Philadelphia: The safety net is torn, By Alfred Lubrano, November 5, 2010, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Myra Young fits a nebulizer mask over her son Todd’s face to beat back his chronic asthma. Inhaling vaporized medicine that keeps him breathing, the 4-year-old with large eyes leafs through a children’s Bible to pass the time. Young, 41, is an unemployed nursing assistant who lost her job in 2007 caring for Todd during his two-month hospitalization. She watches nervously as the whirring machine eats electricity. The power to Young’s two-bedroom rental in Kensington will be cut in two weeks because the bill has climbed to $770. She lives in the poorest place in Pennsylvania – the First Congressional District. According to a national poll, the district is the second-hungriest in America. Young, who is separated, is not without help. She receives monthly welfare payments of $205, along with $362 in food stamps, and $674 in Supplemental Security Income for Todd’s illness – part of the safety net meant to aid the poor. Young’s husband, a hotel kitchen worker, chips in as well. But all that help still keeps mother and son stuck at the poverty level – not nearly enough to pay the $625 rent, and feed Young’s hungry child and his voracious breathing machine. Because Young hasn’t worked since Todd’s hospitalization, it’s harder for her to get jobs; employers are wary of her two years away from nursing…”
  • Inquirer Editorial: We are what we eat, Editorial, November 5, 2010, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Hunger isn’t confined to a single zip code. But there are few places where its impact is more evident than within this city’s First Congressional District, rated the second-hungriest in America. Inquirer reporter Alfred Lubrano recently detailed how that hunger, rooted in poverty, can paradoxically lead to obesity. Many among the poor are overweight not from eating too much, but because they eat the wrong foods…”

TANF Emergency Fund and Jobs Programs

  • Latest unemployed: Stimulus-subsidized workers, By Tami Luhby, October 1, 2010, “Tens of thousands of low-income workers lost their jobs Thursday as a stimulus-subsidized employment program came to an end. About a quarter of a million people in 37 states were placed in short-term jobs thanks to a $5 billion boost to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. States used about $1 billion to provide subsidized employment, with the remaining funds going to cash grants, food programs, housing assistance and other aid. About half the jobs were summer employment for youth and the rest were for disadvantaged parents. Each state configured its initiative differently. Some covered all the workers’ wages for a few months, while others paid for a portion of their salary. With the program expiring, many of the adults have been told not to report to work anymore. And it won’t be easy for them to find a new position at time when the unemployment rate continues to hover at 9.6%…”
  • Stimulus aid ends for jobs program, By Richard Wolf, October 1, 2010, USA Today: “Cepeda White is a poster child for the $814 billion economic stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Obama last year. Today, he nearly became one of its first casualties. That’s because federal subsidies ran out for a $5 billion program funded by the stimulus law that has provided 235,000 jobs in 36 states for low-income parents and young adults. The program, ending in some states and on life support in others, paid White’s $10-an-hour salary at the Nice Twice Thrift Shop here. For months, Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, have tried to get the program extended. They ran into opposition from Republicans, including House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, who complained that the program funded direct welfare and emergency payments as well as subsidized jobs…”
  • Despite latest poverty figures, Senate lets worthy jobs program lapse, Editorial, October 1, 2010, Washington Post: “The Census Bureau reported this week that more than one in four children in the District of Columbia lives in poverty. That includes 36 percent of African American children — compared with 3 percent for non-Hispanic white children. And the District was not alone in receiving grim news. The overall national child poverty rate is nearly 21 percent. Poverty rose last year in 31 states and fell in none. In some ways, the District is better off than most jurisdictions: The only places where median household income rose in 2009 were the District (2.8 percent) and North Dakota (5.1 percent). Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to be poor as adults. They lag behind early in intellectual development, tend to attend lower-quality schools and are more likely to drop out of high school. It’s not surprising that poverty would rise during an economic downturn. But the current recession — marked by increased levels of long-term unemployment and homelessness — could have a particularly brutal and long-lasting effect on the children hit by it…”

Debit Card Tax Refunds

Debit card refunds for lower-income folks should work in Michigan, By Susan Tompor, September 12, 2010, Detroit Free Press: “The U.S. Treasury plans to test the delivery of tax refunds in plastic for lower-income individuals who do not have bank accounts, and Michigan seems to me like a no-brainer for a pilot program. ‘I think Michigan would provide fertile ground,’ said David Marzahl, president of the Center for Economic Progress, the nation’s largest tax-preparation provider for low-income families. The Chicago-based center leads the National Community Tax Coalition, a group of community-based tax and financial services programs that serve more than 1 million low-income families nationwide. Marzahl noted that communities in Michigan offer racial, ethnic and economic diversity. Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael S. Barr has a Michigan connection, too, having taught at the University of Michigan Law School. More important, consumers in metro Detroit — and other cities in the Midwest — have long been targeted by tax-preparation companies that pitch high-cost refund-anticipation loans to individuals who do not have bank accounts…”

Hurricane Katrina Recovery at 5-Year Anniversary

  • A tale of two recoveries, By Michael A. Fletcher, August 27, 2010, Washington Post: “The massive government effort to repair the damage from Hurricane Katrina is fostering a stark divide as the state governments in Louisiana and Mississippi structured the rebuilding programs in ways that often offered the most help to the most affluent residents. The result, advocates say, has been an uneven recovery, with whites and middle-class people more likely than blacks and low-income people to have rebuilt their lives in the five years since the horrific storm…”
  • On Katrina anniversary, recovery takes hold, By Campbell Robertson, August 27, 2010, New York Times: “This city, not that long ago, appeared to be lost. Only five years have passed since corpses were floating through the streets, since hundreds of thousands of survivors sat in hotel rooms and shelters and the homes of relatives, learning from news footage that they were among the ranks of the homeless. For most of the last year, in many parts of the city, the waters finally seemed to be receding. In November, a federal judge ruled that much of the flooding after Hurricane Katrina was a result of the negligence of the Army Corps of Engineers, vindicating New Orleanians, who had hammered this gospel for four years. In January, the federal government cleared the way for nearly half a billion dollars in reimbursement for the city’s main public hospital, an acceleration of funds that led to the announcement this week that nearly two billion more would be coming in a lump-sum settlement for city schools…”
  • Billions in Katrina relief funds still unspent, By Geoff Pender, August 27, 2010, Miami Herald: “More than a quarter of the $20 billion in Housing and Urban Development relief funds earmarked for Gulf states after Katrina remains unspent five years after the storm, a fact noticed by at least one congressional leader eager to spend it elsewhere. In June, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, ordered data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development into how much remains unspent from the more than $20 billion in Community Development Block Grant hurricane relief funds earmarked for Gulf states after the 2005 storms. The answer: about $5.4 billion, including $3 billion of the $13 billion earmarked for Louisiana and $2 billion of the $5.5 billion for Mississippi…”
  • New Orleans five years after Katrina: Chins up, hopes high, August 26, 2010, The Economist: “It is still obvious to any visitor-especially one who ventures out of the French Quarter, with its restaurants and night clubs, into the unstarred districts of the city. Something awful happened here in the not-too-distant past. The signs are everywhere: empty lots overgrown by weeds, ramshackle, leaning houses, derelict public buildings still awaiting restoration. Some houses feature ‘Katrina tattoos’ sprayed by rescuers as they completed house-by-house searches in 2005. Nobody at home. And yet New Orleans has undoubtedly recovered its essence. The old neighbourhoods are almost intact, and the city’s irrepressible people have mostly returned. Experts estimate that perhaps 360,000 people now live in a city that was home to around 100,000 more on the day disaster struck. Those who left were probably disproportionately black and poor. Yet the city’s large black majority, still there and mostly still poor, has ensured that the extravagant culture of New Orleans has survived the flood unharmed…”
  • Disasters widen the rich-poor gap, By John Mutter, August 25, 2010, “As the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, recovery in New Orleans is patchy. The hurricane flushed out many of the poorer people. For those who remained, almost without exception, the poorer neighbourhoods have experienced the slowest repopulation and recovery of basic amenities such as schools, shops and petrol stations. The poorest district of New Orleans – the Lower Ninth Ward – has about 24% of its former residents, whereas the wealthy Central Business District has seen 157% repopulation. Low-income black workers were seven times more likely to lose their pre-Katrina jobs than higher-income white workers. And low-income people have found it more difficult to attain basic living conditions, including good access to health care – in 2008 there were 38% fewer hospital beds available in New Orleans than before the storm…”

Aging Out of Foster Care

  • Governor signs bill to assist children aging out of foster care, By Doug Denison, July 20, 2010, Dover Post: ” Children aging out of the foster care system now have access to greater protections under the law thanks to legislation signed June 14 by Gov. Jack Markell. Under Senate Bill 113, former foster children between the ages of 18 and 21 will now be allowed to petition Family Court and continue to work with the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families to get help with housing, employment, education and health care. Court-appointed child advocates, former guardians and the foster children themselves will be able to bring cases to Family Court that weren’t previously within its jurisdiction. In the last fiscal year, 94 Delaware foster children aged out of the system, putting in jeopardy their ability to continue to receive various kinds of federal- and state-funded assistance. Ten years ago, half as many children were in that position…”
  • Foster kids at 18 aren’t ready to go it alone in the world, By Kathy Markeland, July 24, 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Each year, more than 7,000 Wisconsin children are removed from their parents’ homes and placed in foster care. Most of these children will live with relatives or foster parents for a short time and then be reunited with their families. Sometimes families can’t be reunited and children are connected to new families through adoption. But for up to 600 young people in Wisconsin each year, their stay in foster care ends when they turn 18 and ‘age out’ of their foster home. They ‘age out’ of the system that promised to protect them. The national data on the experiences of youths that age out of the foster care system are grim. Compared to their peers in the general population, these young people have a higher incidence of physical and mental health needs, yet are less likely to have health care coverage…”

Disadvantaged Communities and Health of Black and Latino Boys

The importance of healthy communities for boys of color, By Marian Wright Edelman, July 22, 2010, Madison Times: “A new report was released in June that sheds a sobering light on how many Black and Latino boys grow up in communities that are, in a number of ways, dangerous to their health. Called “Healthy Communities Matter: The Importance of Place to the Health of Boys of Color,” the report contained contributions from scholars and researchers at the RAND Corporation, PolicyLink, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, and the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice and the Department of Emergency Medicine at Drexel University. It was funded by the California Endowment. Some of its data and best practices focus on California but the lessons learned apply to communities across the country. The researchers found that boys and young men overall experience worse health outcomes than girls, that these health disparities are even more profound for Black and Latino boys, and that many of these disparities can be connected to community patterns. As they explain: “Negative health outcomes for African-American and Latino boys and young men are a result of growing up in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage, places that are more likely to put boys and young men directly in harm’s way and reinforce harmful behavior…”

Minimum Wage and Teen Joblessness – Michigan

Jobless Michigan teens can thank the minimum wage hike, By Michael Saltsman, July 21, 2010, Detroit News: “Teens have it pretty tough these days. From bullies and standardized tests to peer pressure and Facebook fights, modernity is adding stress to every aspect of the lives of young adults. This summer, you can add the death of the entry-level job to that list of woes. Young adults are facing unprecedented unemployment rates — and the figures for dropouts and minorities are even more staggering. No matter how you slice it, the numbers are bad. The unemployment rate for Michigan teens is averaging over 26 percent — more than one in four are looking for work and unable to find it. Vulnerable groups like high school dropouts and minorities have been hit especially hard. Dropouts between the age of 16 and 24 were dealing with 33 percent unemployment in April. African-American dropouts in the same age group suffered an eye-popping 60 percent unemployment…”

War on Poverty

  • Remember the War On Poverty?, By Saul Friedman, July 18, 2010, The Huffington Post: “Long before there was a war on terrorism and the war on drugs, the nation declared war on poverty. Specifically, Lyndon Johnson in his first State of The Union, in 1964, declared amid great cheers from the Congress, an ‘unconditional war on poverty in America’ and he pledged not to rest ‘until that war is won.’ In his last State of the Union in 1988, Ronald Reagan, who had been no fan of Johnson’s agenda, declared to snickering lawmakers, that in the War on Poverty, ‘poverty won…'”

Economic Stimulus and Jobs Programs

  • Programs meet growing teen jobless needs, By Mark Curnutte, July 9, 2010, Cincinnati Enquirer: “The ailing economy has left many of the region and nation’s youngest workers with little to do over the summer. The unemployment rate nationally for teens 16-19 in June was 29 percent, roughly the same as Ohio and Kentucky, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s twice the rate from June 2000. Yet some summer youth jobs programs have found new ways to keep teens productive and have evolved to include long-term career training and emphasis on education. One of Greater Cincinnati’s largest, Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency’s Summer Youth Employment Program, expanded from 375 slots in 2009 to 990 this year. Applications increased from about 1,200 last year to 2,500 in 2010…”
  • A jobs program that works, By Bob Herbert, July 2, 2010, New York Times: “Is it possible that there is a federal stimulus program that is putting many thousands of struggling individuals to work and is getting rave reviews not only from Democrats but from officials in conservative states like South Carolina and Mississippi? It may be hard to believe, but it’s true. The program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, allows states to use federal dollars to temporarily subsidize the salaries of individuals placed in private- and public-sector jobs. More than 30 states are participating. The program, though small, appears to be working exceptionally well. States expect to have placed more than 200,000 individuals by this coming autumn. Some of those workers would otherwise have landed on welfare. The catch – there is always a catch – is that the program will expire at the end of September if Congress does not act to extend it…”

High School Graduation Rates – Mississippi

  • Graduation rates drop in Miss., By Marquita Brown, July 12, 2010, Jackson Clarion-Ledger: “To encourage her son to stay in school, Kimberly Smith would use herself as an example. She only had a sixth-grade education. At times the family had no electricity, no food and sometimes no place to stay. ‘This is why you need to go to school,’ Smith would tell her son, Carlos. ‘You want to live like this the rest of your life? Or you want to do something about it?’ Carlos graduated this year as Wingfield High School salutatorian with numerous scholarships, including national awards, and will attend Jackson State University in the fall. Kimberly Smith represents an element education leaders say is needed to improve state graduation and dropout rates – parental involvement. Mississippi’s graduation rate for the Class of 2009 dipped to 71.4 percent from 72 percent, according to numbers released from the state Department of Education on Thursday. The drop was greater in Jackson Public Schools…”
  • Dropouts: Budget strains hit weakest, Editorial, July 12, 2010, Jackson Clarion-Ledger: “In a competitive world, the lack of a high school diploma is an almost unsurmountable barrier to success. Yet, Mississippi still struggles with its high school graduation and dropout rates. The state Department of Education reports that graduation rates dropped slightly last year – from 72 percent to 71.4 percent. The state’s dropout rate increased slightly – from 16 percent to 16.7 percent. The negative trend, while slight, comes at a time when the state has been emphasizing high school dropout prevention. Worse, it could show a more vulnerable area as funding for education is being cut, putting a strain on districts seeking to provide help for students who are at-risk…”

US Strategy on Homelessness

  • Administration broadens effort to fight homelessness, By Henri E. Cauvin, June 23, 2010, Washington Post: “The Obama administration released a strategy Tuesday to end homelessness by expanding programs to secure housing for veterans and families with young children and by building on efforts to help chronically homeless people. With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq highlighting the needs of veterans and the economic crisis straining more families, the administration’s plan widens the role envisioned for the federal government in curbing and ending homelessness. It does not commit additional federal money on top of the billions of dollars already budgeted by the various agencies involved in reducing and preventing homelessness. Instead, the 67-page strategy, drafted by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and unveiled Tuesday, details several smaller projects intended to spur collaboration among federal agencies and with local and state governments…”
  • Obama builds on Bush success to help the homeless, Editorial, June 22, 2010, Christian Science Monitor: “To see what’s happening with the homeless population in America today, consider the following ’30s.’ In the last three years, during the great recession, the number of people who are considered to be chronically homeless has decreased by 30 percent. Over the same time period, the number of homeless families who are temporarily living in shelters has increased by 30 percent, according to a report last week by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The opposite trends show how far America has come in trying to solve homelessness, and where it needs to redouble its efforts. The Obama administration is attempting that extra effort with a national plan to eliminate homelessness. The plan, required by Congress, seeks to end chronic and veterans homelessness in five years – 10 years for families, youth, and children…”

Jobs Bill and Unemployment Benefits

  • Senate cuts to recession relief bill favor special interests, By Janet Hook, June 23, 2010, Los Angeles Times: “As the Senate scrambles to scale back a $140-billion recession relief bill, the poor, the elderly and the unemployed are bearing the brunt of the squeeze. But NASCAR track developers, movie producers and other special interests are likely to escape unscathed. Those businesses stand to gain $32 billion in tax breaks as part of the bill, which has been stalled for weeks because of rising complaints about deficit spending. In the hunt for ways to cut costs, neither party has proposed curbing the panoply of narrow tax preferences, which Congress has routinely extended each year. Instead, Senate leaders have proposed a $25 cut in weekly unemployment benefits; temporarily allowed a 21% cut in Medicare fees for doctors; and are planning to withhold or scale back $24 billion in payments many states expected to help pay for Medicaid for the poor…”
  • Cutting off the unemployed, Editorial, June 22, 2010, New York Times: “It was bad enough when the Senate left town for a long Memorial Day break without passing a bill to extend expiring unemployment benefits. It’s worse now. Back in session for nearly three weeks, the Senate still has not acted. That means that 900,000 jobless workers have already lost their benefits, a number that will swell to an estimated 1.6 million people if an extension is not passed by the July Fourth holiday. Lost benefits – the average check is $309 a week – deprives struggling Americans of cash they need for buying food, paying the rent or mortgage and other essentials…”

Editorial: Exhaustion of Unemployment Benefits

The unemployed held hostage, Editorial, June 14, 2010, New York Times: “Since June 1, when federal unemployment benefits began to expire, an estimated 325,000 jobless workers have been cut off. That number will swell to 1.25 million by the end of the month unless Congress extends the benefits. The Senate, so far, has failed to act. Some senators, including Democrats, have balked at an unrelated provision that would begin to close a tax loophole enjoyed by some of the richest Americans. You heard right. Desperately needed unemployment benefits have been held hostage to a tax break for the rich, and the Senate’s Democratic leadership has had to delay and finagle to get its own caucus in line…”

Commentary: Poverty Measurement

Drawing the line at poverty, By Sarika Bansal, May 19, 2010, The Guardian: “I recently had the pleasure of meeting a construction worker named Lakshmi while taking a walk in Mumbai. She was on a much-needed break, and I was feeling chattier than usual. Lakshmi told me that she moved to Mumbai 10 years ago with her husband, and that they gave birth to two lovely children before he died last year. When he died, she could no longer afford rent for their single-room flat, and was soon after evicted. Today, she and her children live under a blue tarp tent with patchy electricity, no running water and few physical assets to their name. She earns Rs 120 (£1.80) every day she works at the construction site. Most of her wages are used to purchase groceries, with which she usually cooks thin rotis and watery lentils. Is Lakshmi’s family poor? According to the government of India, she is not. Since her income is technically sufficient to provide her family three meals a day, her household is above the nationally defined poverty line…”

Supplemental Poverty Measure

  • A rich new poverty measure, By Nancy Folbre, May 10, 2010, New York Times: “The Census Bureau recently announced plans to develop a new Supplemental Poverty Measure (S.P.M.), also referred to as a Supplemental Income Poverty Measure (SIPM). If you want to remember the acronym, imagine a phone app that allows you to sip virtual coffee that increases your alertness to technical issues of poverty measurement. Poverty researchers like me will not require this imaginary app, as we are already overexcited. Most of us dislike the official poverty lines used to determine who, exactly, qualifies as poor. Most of us can recite at least five reasons why these measures (based on a mid-1960s assessment of the costs of a minimal food budget) are narrow, out of date and downright misleading. Most of us can also expound on how current methods of measuring poverty make it difficult, if not impossible, to accurately assess the impact of anti-poverty policies. Food assistance administered through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) has been a mainstay of our safety net during the current recession. But since food stamps are not income, they don’t show up in our income-based poverty measures. The Earned Income Tax Credit (E.I.T.C.) is our largest cash-assistance program other than unemployment insurance in this recession. Our poverty measures are based on pre-tax, rather than after-tax, income. So, by definition, the E.I.T.C. does not reduce poverty. It’s hard to find anyone more passionate about these inconsistencies than Professor Timothy Smeeding, current director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin. He wrote his doctoral dissertation in 1975 on the importance of developing measures of post-benefit, post-tax income to better inform public policy…”
  • Reaction mixed on proposed poverty measure, By Cheryl Wetzstein, May 14, 2010, Washington Times: “The Census Bureau’s formal release of an alternative way to measure poverty in the United States is 16 months away, but the rumblings of unease can already be heard about the politically sensitive indicator. The bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which will be released September 2011, is ‘a bogus and dishonest propaganda device,’ Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told a Brookings Institution briefing recently. ‘It’s a Trojan horse,’ introduced under the name of poverty, but designed to find endless ‘income inequality’ that must be fixed with even more spending on anti-poverty programs, Mr. Rector said. The government will spend $900 billion on means-tested aid to poor and low-income persons this year alone, he added. Policy experts have been working for at least 15 years on a new poverty standard to supplement – or eventually replace – the measure that has been used since the 1960s, a measure that many critics say does not reflect contemporary realities and needs. The problem: some experts think the current measure overstates the number of poor Americans, while another group argues it vastly understates the number…”

Editorial: Poverty Measurement in the US

Change the way we measure poverty, Editorial, May 3, 2010 Hartford Courant: “Starting next year, the federal government will take a few baby steps toward changing the way it measures poverty, something that is decades overdue. The government has used its official poverty guidelines to divide the haves and have-nots for 45 years. The income levels decide who qualifies for hundreds of state and federal programs such as food stamps. Any changes – at first, anyway – will just supplement the status quo. That’s too bad, because the income guidelines are inadequate, to say the least. The government yardstick has no more to do with the reality of making ends meet in the 21st century than the price of eggplants. Unfortunately, the measurements not only determine eligibility for government aid; they also shape the debate concerning problems of the poor…”