[Hpn] Poverty - US Government may reconsider definition - Your
Sun, 25 Nov 2001 13:43:10 -0800
In your opinion, what would constitute a fair definition of "poverty"?
FWD Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Nov 23 2001
JUST HOW MANY IN POVERTY? GOVERNMENT LOOKS AT NEW WAYS OF COUNTING
By GENARO C. ARMAS
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal agencies are exploring new ways to
measure poverty, a politically delicate endeavor that could boost
the number of Americans considered to be among the poorest of the
Part of the problem, critics say, is that the decades-old method
of determining how many people are in poverty is outdated, and does
not take enough account of factors such as skyrocketing child care
and housing costs. Nor does it consider non-cash aid such as food
stamps that some poor families get.
A recent Census Bureau report found that millions more Americans
would be considered impoverished if test measurements that include
some of the disputed elements were used.
Federal agencies have been studying the topic for years.
Officials with the Office of Management and Budget, the department
spearheading the study, said it could take years more to make any
Beyond record-keeping purposes, revisions could affect the
amount of money poured into funding for federal programs that aid
the poor, such as Medicaid. It could also change the way such
funding is distributed.
Wary politicians and policy-makers were proceeding cautiously
even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks rose to the top of the
``Making a change just raises a host of political issues that we
cannot get past,'' said University of Wisconsin professor Thomas
Corbett, one of 40 academics and advocacy group members who last
year urged the government to make changes.
The Census Bureau keeps the government's official poverty
statistics. In September, it announced the poverty rate dropped
from 11.8 percent in 1999 to 11.3 percent in 2000, its lowest level
in over a quarter century.
A person is considered living in poverty if his household income
before taxes falls below varying income thresholds. In 2000, for
instance, a family of four was impoverished if their household made
$17,603 or less.
That poverty threshold is based on a formula first established
in the 1960s and updated every year to account for inflation.
The Department of Health and Human Services in part uses these
thresholds to set guidelines for federal agencies to determine
eligibility for programs that aid the poor.
The census report found that the national poverty rate in 1999
could be as high as 15 percent if some of those disputed costs were
taken into account.
Nearly everyone agrees that, overall, poverty rates have
declined over the past decade thanks to the once healthy economy
and welfare reform.
But critics contend that today's measurements don't adequately
consider expenses such as day care or electricity bills.
Poverty measures paint a particularly misleading picture of the
status of working mothers, said Heidi Hartmann, president of the
Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research.
The poverty rate for a family headed by an unmarried woman, or
without a husband living at home, was 28 percent last year, down
from 40 percent a decade ago.
Bonnie Chambers and her husband have four children. The couple
brought in $22,600 in gross income, falling just below the poverty
threshold in 2000 for a six-person household, $23,528.
While they qualify for assistance to help pay the rent for their
three-bedroom apartment in the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood, Wash.,
Chambers said she still struggles to find enough money for food.
Americans don't like to think about the poor and ``I think that
as America rebuilds, that this is our best time to take care of our
weakest link,'' she said.
Corbett and other academics agree with many conservatives that
non-cash benefits such as food stamps should be added to income
received by families.
Poverty should not be measured strictly by income level, but by
physical characteristics that would otherwise go unnoticed, said
Robert Rector, senior researcher with the conservative Heritage
Those traits include how much food a family eats, and how many
televisions are in the home.
Rector noted 1995 Census Bureau statistics that showed that
about half of those considered poor had two or more color TVs at
home, and that 84 percent say they have enough food to eat.
On the Net:
Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov
Received Id AP101327D56EEBE5 on Nov 23 2001 14:31
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