Government Defines Poverty Upward, Media Don’t Notice the Trick

While the reliable and original formula for the government to calculate who lives in “absolute poverty” is still in place, another measure has been introduced that enables the government to determine how many people live in “relative poverty,” a term often used to describe the concept of “income inequality.”

According to Mickey Kaus of the Daily Caller website, this new “supplemental” concept is “an audacious, slimy bait-and-switch by liberal activists inside the government anti-poverty bureaucracy.” And, as would be expected, it's gone almost totally unnoticed in the establishment left-wing press.

Kaus added that the new system is “a complicated measure produced by formulas that are barely understood by poverty experts” and includes millions of people in a new “near poor” category, a  loaded term designed to “suggest to most people a level of material hardship that doesn’t exist.”

Of course, “the regular old, still-official poverty line is simple and understandable,” Kaus stated:

It is the level that bought a minimal market basket of food in 1963-4, adjusted for subsequent inflation and multiplied by three. As such, it measures what people think a poverty line measures -- how many people fall below certain absolute living standards, whether basic human needs are being met.

“We’ve been using it for decades,” he added, “so while it may be too high or too low, people have a rough feel for what it is and what it isn’t.”

“For most Americans, the word 'poverty' suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter,” said Robert Rector of the National Review

“But only a small number of the 40 million persons classified as poor under the government’s current poverty definition fit that description,” he added. Most of America’s poor live in material conditions that would have been judged comfortable, or even well-off, two generations ago.

However, Kaus stated that the new formula has resulted in sensational headlines across the country stating that the number of people in poverty has suddenly mushroomed, an indication that “new” does not necessarily mean “better.”

For example, the reporter pointed to a story run online with an opening paragraph that read:

As President Barack Obama is set to begin his second term, new statistics on America’s poverty rate indicate that nearly 50 million Americans, more than 16 percent of the population, are struggling to survive.

Also, veteran federal poverty analyst Richard Bavier stated on the Brookings Institution website that the new program is “carefully designed so that the public will think it is one thing when it really is something else.”

Kathleen Short, a U.S. Census Bureau economist, recently produced a report on the new formula and noted in a news release that “there are several important differences between the official and supplemental poverty measures.”

Among those differences are the “value of in-kind benefits,” such as food stamps, and deducting the cost of several “necessary expenses,” including taxes and medical care.

“The current poverty measure counts absolute purchasing power -- how much steak and potatoes you can buy,” Rector noted. “The new measure will count comparative purchasing power -- how much steak and potatoes you can buy relative to other people.”

“Under the old line, 'poverty' could be eliminated as society got richer -- an achievable and widely shared goal,” Klaus stated. “But the new poverty line will rise as society gets richer ('adjust for rising levels and standards of living').”

As a result, “the newly measured poor will always be with us in substantial numbers.”

In fact,  Rector indicated, the only way to reduce poverty under the new, relative measure is to have those at the bottom gain income faster than anyone else, an unlikely trend.

“Maybe it’s just me, but the Census’s deception seems more flagrant than anything Susan Rice did in the wake of the Benghazi attacks," Klaus added. “They can’t say they were badly briefed. It’s their report. Like General Petraeus, they know what they did.”

It's clear to me that this new “supplemental” system is an attempt to expand the role of the government in the lives of people who are mostly doing well without this kind of help. Once the foot is in the door, federal officials can slowly phase out the simpler, more reliable system and replace it with something they can point to when calling for bigger government.
 

Randy Hall
Randy Hall