America’s Real Poverty Rate

By Salvatore Babones, Otherwords.org

The Census Bureau recently released a highly-anticipated report suggesting ways to improve the measurement of poverty in America. It found that adjusting for medical expenses, the value of benefits payments, regional differences in the cost of living, and other technical factors raised the poverty rate to 16 percent, up from the official count of 15.1 percent.

Needless to say, the new numbers are controversial. Advocacy groups tend to push for measurement changes that make more families eligible for benefits, while conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation argue aggressively that the poverty line is already set too high.

The truth is that even the 16 percent revised figure is way too low.

The poverty line we use today — official or recently revised — was fixed in 1969. Economists and social statisticians can debate whether or not it is a good measure of poverty, but good or bad it represents more or less what people in 1969 considered the minimum decent standard of living. Since 1969, the poverty line has been updated every year for changes in the cost of living (inflation).

It has not been updated for changes in the standard of living.

As a result, when we say that a family lives in poverty today, what we really mean is that that family lives in what was considered to be poverty in 1969. The standard of living represented by the poverty line hasn’t changed. According to the Census Bureau, 46.2 million (official definition) or 49.1 million (revised definition) Americans live in what was considered poverty in 1969.

The official poverty line for a family of four is $22,350. Updating that figure for growth in U.S. national income per capita since 1969 would yield a 2011 poverty line of $46,651. By that standard, about 28 percent of American families of four are now living in poverty, almost twice the official poverty rate. If that sounds high, it’s only because we are much more stingy today than our grandparents were in 1969.

This year is 2011, not 1969. The tortured technical debate over poverty measurement misses the point. However we measure it, our standard of what constitutes a decent standard of income should be higher in 2011 than it was in 1969. Our accepted poverty line is now 42 years out of date.

How long will it take before we accept that a 1969 poverty standard is just too old? It’s already too old. Human dignity requires that people today live better than people lived in 1969. Even poor people.

Salvatore Babones, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, is a senior lecturer in Sociology & Social Policy at the University of Sydney.

[Photo By John McNab]

Subscribe today!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Must Read

How a harsh criticism turned ‘Coco’ into Pixar’s most uniquely made movie yet

Victor Landa November 17, 2017

Director Lee Unkrich was hot off the box office success and Oscar win for 2010’s “Toy Story 3” when he delved into making a movie that focused on the Mexican […]

Trump Administration Targets and then Mocks Immigrant with Prosthetic Leg

Victor Landa November 15, 2017

A 20-year-old undocumented immigrant with prosthetic leg and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status has been detained by federal immigration agents and held without charges for over a month, treated inhumanely […]

More Latinas are becoming teachers and reshaping our nation’s classrooms

Victor Landa November 29, 2017

The growth of the Latino population in the United States will have a lasting cultural and intellectual impact beyond the arts, food, and celebrations. More and more, Latinas are becoming […]

As Numbers Grow, Recognizing Generations Of Latino Veterans

Victor Landa November 10, 2017

As the nation honors its veterans, government officials point to the growing numbers of Latinos in the military, while Hispanic scholars and historians remind us of the generations of Latino […]

U.S Hispanic Chamber Leader Who Has Had Turbulent Relationship With Trump May Be Ousted

Victor Landa November 22, 2017

The US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) is moving behind the scenes to oust its prominent president Javier Palomarez over allegations that he misused the organization’s money for his personal […]

How Indie Latinx Comic Book Authors Are Capturing the Latinx Experience

Victor Landa November 13, 2017

Back in 2010, comics creator Javier Hernandez was walking around San Francisco with his friend Ricardo Padilla when he had an idea: Why don’t they build a comics convention focusing […]

Half of Latino Immigrant Characters on TV Are Portrayed as Criminals, Study Finds

Victor Landa November 1, 2017

Define American, the immigration nonprofit founded by Pulitzer-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, has released its first-ever media reference guide for writers, directors, and producers concerning Latino immigrant characters. Immigrants and […]

Could Hispanic vote push Lupe Valdez into Texas Governor’s Office?

Victor Landa December 8, 2017

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez is running as a Democratic candidate for Texas Governor after a year of speaking out on big state issues– particularly the controversial sanctuary cities ban. Experts says […]