Why is the Federal Poverty Line So Far Off? (via Moyers & Company)

A Matter of Scale

John Light

Census data released this week show that after yet another year of anemic “recovery,” the number of Americans living in poverty last year remained stubbornly unchanged.

But what is “poverty” as measured by the federal government? Experts argue that the official measure is outdated, and doesn’t take important economic realities into account. Are those with incomes slightly above thepoverty threshhold not “poor people,” as most of us would understand it?

In 1999, a single mother struggling with this question sent an email to the Health and Human Services employee whose job it was to calculate the federal poverty line. She wrote:

I am a single Mother and work two jobs which equal about $18,000 per year. We barely afford rent, electric, cable, phone, water, food, taxes and vehicle expenses. [But] the federal poverty level is $11,060. My daughter and I have zero, no, zilch money…

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