In light of federal spending cuts, the media has recently revisited poverty in the United States. A recent article in the Christian Post depicts alarming child poverty and hunger rates while another article from the Associated Press asserts staggering poverty levels in the United States not seen since Lyndon B. Johnson Administration’s “war on poverty” began during the mid-1960’s. There is no doubt that American families have been affected by the recent economic downturn; however, there is a fundamental problem with sensationalizing a story containing serious assertions about our nation’s children based on poor data. If we really want to understand child poverty in this country, we ought to begin by measuring it accurately.
The United States is one of the few developed countries with an official poverty line. The U.S. Census Bureau uses a set of income thresholds that vary by family size, a poverty-measure method that has virtually remained unaltered since its implementation in 1964. By solely correlating poverty to income, however, we are disregarding variances in regional cost of living, and ignoring in-kind benefits, such as food stamps, school lunches, cash benefits, subsidized housing and home energy assistance.
Our government continues to use this official poverty line to define poverty in the United States, although an additional measure, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) has provided limited statistical reports addressing the aforementioned issues not being addressed by the official poverty measure. The latest Census Bureau SPM report indicates that individuals below the age of 15 are automatically deemed poor if their household falls below the poverty line, but that may not always be the case. If we want to get serious about measuring child poverty and doing something about it, we must first get an accurate measure of child poverty.