If We Want To Make Our World A Better Place We Must Change The Way We Measure Poverty
Politics and Activism

If We Want To Make Our World A Better Place We Must Change The Way We Measure Poverty

A look at how the poverty line is made.

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So I am sure that you have heard of the poverty line, but, what exactly is the poverty line, and how is it determined? Well to know that we need to go back to the inception of the poverty line, and the person who invented it: Mollie Orchansky.

Mollie Orchansky was an Economist and Statistician who worked for the Federal Government. After spending time at the Department of Agriculture (USDA), she made her formula, the one that is still in effect today. Orchansky used the least expensive food plan the USDA (now called the "thrifty food plan" which can be found here). Orchansky knew that (at the time) people spent one-third of their income on food. So by knowing the cheapest food plan, and multiplying it by three, Orchansky had her poverty line!

So as is talked about in this NPR podcast, the poverty line has some obvious issues. It doesn't take into account housing, childcare, the fact that more women are entering the workforce, or healthcare costs. But perhaps worst of all, as is stated in this American Progress article, the poverty line is "a number calculated more than 40 years ago and then adjusted for inflation, and they no longer represent anything in relation to family incomes or costs." The line is inflexible, it doesn't account for geographical differences, or the differences families have when their kids are newborns, versus when they are sixteen.

In this article from The Nation they looked at a poll done, concluding "conservatives did a poll on how much income it takes to avoid poverty, and the answer they got back was more than $8,000 above the federal poverty line." So if conservatives don't like the poverty line, and liberals claim to want to fight for people of the lower class, then it would seem that we are all in agreement: it needs to be changed.

One option would be the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM sounds weird at first, but it really is just a better thought out Poverty Line. The SPM takes into account what is known as an "in-kind" benefit, these would be nutritional assistance (think food stamps) or housing assistance. SPM also looks at food, clothing, and housing expenses, as well as a person's income (you can see more about the SPM here).

For me, one of the most important reasons behind changing the poverty line would be that it would give people who do not live in poverty a more realistic idea of how many people live in poverty, and what the United States would have to look like for everyone in it to not have to live in poverty. All in all, it seems that we all can agree on a new way of measuring poverty is needed, and it seems like we have a pretty good option.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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