Home > Poverty > The Mismeasurement of Poverty in America-How the Numbers are Skewed

The Mismeasurement of Poverty in America-How the Numbers are Skewed


Is This All?


The official poverty rate nationwide has risen to 15.1%, a rate high enough to generate some mainstream ink. According to various news agencies, this is the highest rate since 1983. But, if the poverty rate were known, it would be closer to one in three than one in six, and be the highest since the last depression ended with the entry of the United States into the Second World War.

The poverty rate is set as a multiplier of a “thrifty food basket”, a method implemented in 1962. The method has not changed since then, but everything else has. The poverty line for a family of four is $22,314. For a single person it is $10,830. It is on this basis that I make my claim that the poverty line is set too low, and that the poverty rate is grossly understated.

Let’s look more closely at these figures. For a single person, the official figure breaks down to $902.50 per month. A room in a house is at least $350 in most areas, and closer to $550 in larger urban areas that may have more income opportunities.  So let’s say $450. Food costs to meet the most basic need for sustenance is about $200. That leaves $350 to cover transportation, phone, medical expenses, utilities, clothing, laundry, and sundries. It is clear that meeting even these basic needs cannot be done on this budget. The situation is equally dire for a family of four, whose poverty level income amounts to $1859.50 a month. A family of four must rent a house for about $1000 a month. It will take about $400 to feed the family at a basic level of nutrition. This leaves about $400 dollars for all other expenses. Again, it can’t be done. The food cost may be mitigated by food stamps, but the calculation for the amount is deeply skewed. If an applicant has any income at all the amount of assistance goes down precipitously. Some states also have low income medical care available but these programs are getting squeezed as tax revenues drop. And, they too only provide the bare bones in care. Many have died for lack of decent medical care.

So, how much does it take to live a basic life in America, and where should the poverty line be set to reflect reality? For one person, it should be at about $1800 a month, or $21600. About what it is four a family of four today. And for the family, it should be in the neighborhood of $70,000 a year just to make ends meet, and to provide the children in the family with a basic foundation of good health.

So, what is the true poverty rate? The median income for a family of four was $67,000, which means that half of all families fell below that level.  Using that figure alone, my estimate of one in three is reasonable. This is the story that should be shouted from the rooftops throughout the land. The reason why it is not is grossly political and is tied to the powerful elite class that dominates the public discourse. That is the subject for a later post.These are the numbers. The actual human misery concealed in the numbers is immeasurable.

  1. September 13, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    70 grand poverty level for a family of four seems kind of high, no?

    I would presume it would be between 25,000 to 40,000 a year.

    • Annabel Ascher
      September 13, 2011 at 1:45 PM

      It is not high for four people, including two growing children. The most affordable housing will be about $1000 a month as I have said, possibly much more in the larger urban areas where jobs are more plentiful. Basic health insurance for a family this size will be close to $1000 as well. One hundred a week for food for four people is cutting it very close. Now take a look at the actual cost of transportation and food as prices continue to rise. There is no fun little treats in this budget,no vacations, no meals out, just basic cable and Netflix to keep from going crazy. No vacations. Minimal clothing allowance. A family plan for the phone service. These parents are going to have to say no a lot. At $40,000, many necessities, such as health insurance, will be missing.

  2. September 18, 2011 at 9:02 AM

    Annabel you are so right!!! I hope mainstream media starts talking about this because it needs to be brought to the forefront. This is a crisis in America and it’s time people (those that aren’t living in poverty) and the government take the blinders off. My boyfriend and I used to be middle class. Once they pulled the rug out from under us (exhausted 99 weeks of unemployment) we became the “new face” of poverty! And with no jobs there’s no way we can climb out of this sinkhole we’re in.

    Thank you for being our voice!!!

  3. October 3, 2011 at 9:47 PM

    Are you going to do a story on Occupy?

    • Annabel Ascher
      October 4, 2011 at 11:26 AM

      I am trying to get there. I sometimes find myself running on fumes…

  4. Joe
    November 8, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    What a stupid post! The poverty level for anyone is going to vary by their location, number one. One single number does not fit every American. Shit, let’s ramp the poverty level up to 200K a year, than every damn person can get on the wagon! Not only this, but your own research says that the poverty level is higher than it’s been since 1983. Poverty was on the decline in the country before the gov’t stuck it’s big-ass nose into it and killed progress! Doesn’t that tell a thick-headed lib like yourself that throwing money at poverty is not the answer. NOOOOOO! Waste more money! Have more people on poverty. That’s your answer. Stupid!

    • Annabel Ascher
      November 8, 2012 at 11:03 AM

      Please do not read my blog any more. You are entitled to an opinion, but not on my pages. Any more comments and I will block you!

      • November 8, 2012 at 2:45 PM

        Hi Annabel, It might be best to name the individual who you are upset with otherwise others who receive your notifications by email might think you are talking to them.

      • Annabel Ascher
        November 9, 2012 at 10:43 AM

        Hi Swarm: If you read the comments I think you will spot “Joe” the troll. My reply follows his comment directly. He made several more comments that will not be approved, but the one in the comments section is representative. If he had been making an attempt at a real argument it would be different, but this is just nasty name-calling.

      • November 9, 2012 at 11:20 AM

        For those of us who are signed up for notifications along with the comment in our emails, it’s not as obvious as coming here and viewing the entire thread.

        I’m just trying to be helpful. When the email notification is first looked at, the thing that jumps out first is “don’t ever post here again”, and the initial reaction is, what did I do? It’s not your fault, I’m just trying to give you feedback how it looked to me when I got the email notification of the comment along with the comment.

  5. November 9, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    If you have the inclination to pursue a possible book subject, there is a tantalizing story about Charlie Engle and how the government put him in jail for allegedly taking too much home equity out of his own home.

    They actually set him up on a date to try and get him to admit that he did something wrong.
    He’s out of jail now and I think his story, if told through the eyes of a writer, might make an amazing book. I don’t know him personally but if he writes the book, he might be jailed again for some stupid reason, but if someone else writes a book about what happened to him, that probably would not be viewed the same way.


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