Defining poverty #OWS
I am always amazed by my Occupy group, and yesterday’s meeting was no exception. We decided to look into redefining the poverty line, and although the conversation took a moving and deeply philosophical turn, I’ll probably only have time to talk about the nuts and bolts of formulas this morning.
In the early 1960’s, it was noted that poor families spent about a third of their money on food. To build an “objective” measure of poverty, then, they decided to measure the cost of an “economic food budget” for a family of that size and then multiply that cost by 3.
Does that make sense anymore?
Well, no. Food has gotten a lot cheaper since 1964, and other stuff hasn’t. According to the following chart, which I got from The Atlantic, poor families now spend about one sixth of their money on food:
Now if you think about it, the formula should be more like “economic food budget” * 6, which would effectively double all the numbers.
Does this matter? Well, yes. Various programs like Medicare and Medicaid determine eligibility based on poverty. Also, the U.S. census measures poverty in our country using this yardstick. If we double those numbers we will be seeing a huge surge in the official numbers.
Not that we’d be capturing everyone even then. The truth is, in some locations, like New York, rent is so high that the formula would likely be needing even more adjustment. Although food is expensive too, so maybe the base “economic food budget” would simply need adjusting.
As usual the key questions are, what are we accomplishing with such a formula, and who is “we”?