Douglas J. Besharov recently wrote about measuring poverty in America. I include an excerpt:
Each year, the Census Bureau reports on the nation’s poverty rate, based on the number of people with incomes below the official poverty line, adjusted annually for inflation. In 2005, the poverty line, which varies by family size, was $15,577 for a family of three, and $19,971 for a family of four. By this measure, in 2005, about 12.6 percent of the population, or about 37 million people, were reported as poor, including 17.6 percent of children and 10.1 percent of the elderly. That’s essentially the same as the 1968 rate of 12.8 percent–which is a big reason why people think so little progress has been made against poverty.
While a 12.6% poverty rate seems bad enough, it drastically underrates the problem. Honestly, what kind of family of four could live off less than $5,000 each? You could barely afford shelter for that much, let alone food, clothes, healthcare, education, transportation, and everything else required to survive self-sufficiently in America.
The poverty line has so many problems. For one, it only considers people’s immediate needs. If a person makes enough this year to pay for a years worth of expenses, then the government does not count them as poor. However, a person can only work for about half their life. The person also has to pay for any debt accrued while growing up and going to school. Additionally, a person has to pay for their retirement. Among so many other unincluded factors, we have to include student loans and retirement costs in the cost of living when determining the poverty line.
Additionally, the poverty rate doesn’t appear to include needs such as healthcare. For example, the government says that only 35.9 million people in the United States live in poverty, even though 41 million people do not have health coverage.
If a child does not get quality healthcare and quality education, then let’s consider that child poor and recognize that that child does not have the same odds of success as a privileged child–which is not only unfair in and of itself, but also leads to more non-meritocratic inequality.