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  • New York Times: Census Bureau’s Poverty Measure "Flawed"

    In September, the Census Bureau reported that 46.2 million Americans are living in poverty, a steep increase from the previous year’s report of 43.6 million.

    However, in a New York Times piece yesterday, journalist Jason DeParle and colleagues assert that “most poverty experts” would call the Census Bureau’s measure “flawed.”

    “Concocted on the fly a half-century ago, the official poverty measure ignores ever more of what is happening to the poor person’s wallet—good and bad,” noted the authors.

    Heritage senior research fellow Robert Rector similarly points out that the Census Bureau’s poverty measurement is problematic, as it fails to take into account the large amount of federal assistance that poor households receive through a myriad of government programs.

    And this assistance is no small sum. The federal government spends nearly $1 trillion annually on over 70 different welfare programs. However, only around 4 percent of this total is included when calculating poverty. As Rector notes, “the economic resources available to poor persons are vastly greater” than the poverty measure suggests. This fact is underlined by a U.S. Department of Labor study that shows that “one-fifth of households with the lowest incomes appear to spend $1.87 for every $1.00 of income that the Census Bureau says they receive.”

    Asked by DeParle et al. about a new, alternate measure of poverty the Census Bureau is set to release, Rector suggested it would, like the current measure, continue to overstate the extent of real deprivation in a way that is unhelpful to solving the problem.

    When the American public hears the word poverty, they are thinking about material hardship—bad housing, homelessness and hunger.… Most of the people that are defined as poor by the government are not poor in that sense.

    In fact, the typical poor household in the United States is a far cry from what most Americans might expect.

    For example, 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning, roughly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, half have a personal computer, 43 percent have Internet service, one-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV, and more than half have a cell phone. Additionally, around 75 percent own a car or a truck.

    Less than 10 percent live in housing that is overcrowded or in poor condition.

    Furthermore, the large majority of these families report having enough to eat. In 2009, nearly all—96 percent—of poor parents said that their children never went hungry a single day.

    This by no means discounts that there are those who do face serious material hardship. But to target resources effectively to those truly facing deprivation, we need better information. Creating sound anti-poverty policy in the United States begins with an accurate understanding of the nature of the need.

    Likewise, policies should address the causes of poverty rather than merely the symptoms. Since the War on Poverty began back in the 1960s, the federal government has taken the approach that putting more dollars into an ever greater number of government programs will solve the problem. This approach has failed. Rather than helping move people from government dependence to self-reliance, it has simply grown the ranks of Americans dependent on federal assistance.

    Helping the poor should center on promoting responsibility. Work for the able-bodied should be a guiding principle. Tackling poverty also means addressing one of the greatest causes of poverty: the breakdown of the family, specifically, the rise in the number of unwed births.

    Properly defining, understanding, and dealing with the causes of poverty are key to truly assisting those in need.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to New York Times: Census Bureau’s Poverty Measure "Flawed"

    1. KorQui says:

      America thrives on responsibility. One cannot obtain the "American Dream" without taking full responsibility for themselves and their family. Instead of depending on government for support, Americans must depend on their families, religion, and communities; however, current government policy does not allow for this to happen. Look at Obamacare for example; this legislation dis-encourages marriages by providing tax incentives to stay single. Not only is Obamacare hurting our economy and taking away the rights of the American people, but it is also a stab in the back to good social policy. It is essential that social policy encourages personal responsibility and individual liberty, and the current welfare system is far from that. It provides no incentives for individuals to work hard, get married, and dig themselves out of poverty. In fact, it does the exact opposite. So how about we get a president in office who is willing to grab this issue by the horns, flip it around, and put America back on the right track.

    2. Roger Baxter says:

      Unless you are lumping Social Security and Medicare into "welfare" programs, your $ 1 Trillion per year spending number is totally false.

      • Ralph says:

        Taxpayer dollars (which the recipients probably did contribute too somewhat) are being doled out. How does that not count?

    3. Jim Reemts says:

      This is exactly what I have been saying.

    4. Mike Hafner says:

      @Roger … Medicare and Social Security ARE welfare programs … aren't you paying attention?

      Means testing is just around the corner and people can withdraw more from these programs than they ever paid into the system … and in some cases they never paid in at all. That's the very definition of Welfare … and as the author correctly pointed out, enabling people to be dependent has no history of ever helping people in need.

      As the saying goes … give a man a fish and he eats for a day … teach a man to fish and he eats every day for the rest of his life. It's time to focus on jobs programs and people working for their "benefits".

    5. Merrill says:

      I wish I had kept it, but about 15 years ago, I saw a 100+ page study on poverty from the left of center Wiesenthal Center. In the introduction, the authors expressed distress that the 'poor' in America was so well off materially from thier previous generation, that a new measure of "poverty" must be developed. Without saying so directly, the clear implication was a new benchmark had to be set to ensure the numbers of people who are classified as 'in poverty conditions' remain high, otherwise, (Gasp!) they may lose funding.

    6. Bobbie says:

      Good one, Merrill. The term "poverty " hasn't changed unless human survival has! It hasn't!
      Misinterpretation to promote government feel good slush funds of dependency! Government coerces SOME people into what they "can't" do dismissing reasons for some people TO do as government holds the rest of us accountable. That's inequity!

    7. Wait, what? You can't be serious? Does eating Ramen as your 3 healthy balanced meal per day count as enough to eat?
      I mean, I found a can of tuna and got excited, yet I probably don't count as poor because I'm typing this on a laptop. A laptop that I saved for so I could do work on it. Because my work DEPENDS ON IT.
      And yes, I own a car. It was given to me as a gift. and my work DEPENDS ON IT.
      Do you measure that in your metrics that are studied in your posh air conditioned apartment?
      Did you take into account TAXES that we have to pay? That I have to pay 75% of the price of the car I drive in TAXES to drive the car to work?
      Did you take into account, that if I make just a little bit more, my child's healthcare goes away, leaving me to foot the bill for his countless surgeries?
      And did you take into account that I've spent my ENTIRE WORKING LIFE paying these damn taxes to a government demanding increasing amounts from me, and when I take some of that money back as a "assistance" you pious fools run around saying that I'm irresponsible, or too dependent on the government. You bet I am! I've paid so much into the stupid system and all I get are increasing fines and taxes. After taxes, I can't even afford to live in my own place!

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