Mismeasuring Poverty

Mark Levinson of The American Prospect has an interesting article, Mismeasuring Poverty, in which he argues that the Federal Poverty Level, developed 50 years ago, measures the wrong expenses. He also argues that the Supplemental Poverty Measure, developed by the current administration, measures the right expenditures, but at the wrong levels.  The U.S. poverty line is now approximately 36% of the nation’s median income rather than 50%, as it was when first established 50 years ago.

Most other developed countries use a measure of poverty based on the share of families below 50 percent or 60 percent of median income. Adam Smith explained the rationale for this in The Wealth of Nations. He defined the lack of “necessaries” as the experience of being unable to consume “not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without.”

Smith seems to speak directly to the issue of families who lack diapers and other basic needs beyond food and shelter.

What do you think?  Does the Federal Poverty Level adequately measure poverty?  Is the Supplemental Poverty Measure the appropriate measure?  Should we find another measure?

Consider helping those who cannot provide diapers for their family members with a donation to the National Diaper Bank Network.

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