The Poverty Rate Ignores Programs That Fight Poverty | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

The Poverty Rate Ignores Programs That Fight Poverty

Play associated audio

New U.S. poverty numbers come out on Tuesday. But what, exactly, do those numbers measure?

Consider the case of Ann Valdez. She's a 47-year-old single mom who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn with her teenage son. She doesn't have a job. She gets a cash payment of about $130 every two weeks from the government. That's all that's counted for her income in the government's poverty measure.

But Valdez also gets $367 a month in food stamps. The government pays $283 a month for her apartment, which she says would rent for $1,100 or so on the open market. And the government pays for her health care, through Medicaid.

Valdez still has a tough time making ends meet. "We are not living the life of Riley," she says. "Poverty is like being trapped in a room you can't get out of, with straps restraining you, tight enough that you feel sometimes you can't breathe."

Still, if you include the value of her benefits, Valdez's income is far higher than the official poverty numbers suggest. This raises a question: If you count all her benefits, is Valdez still living in poverty?

A few years ago, the New York City developed its own poverty measure that accounts for government benefits, and also considers the cost of living. (The federal government has developed a similar measure, but still uses the old measure for the official poverty numbers.)

The idea, says New York's deputy mayor Linda Gibbs, is to know "how many people are living below what we believe is the minimum level of sustenance necessary to make ends meet. And that's not to have a big fancy life. It's not even to have like an okay life. It's just meeting the bare minimums."

Others are trying to measure poverty in ways that go beyond income. Researchers at Columbia are following 2,000 New York households for two years, tracking what they call "material hardship." Can families keep the lights on? Has anyone missed a meal, or skipped a doctor's visit because there's not enough money?

Linda Gibbs says policymakers need to be guided by measures that go beyond the basic federal poverty numbers. "If you're in the business of saying, 'Poverty is a problem, we want to overcome poverty, we want to help people to not live in poverty,' you've got to know what you're talking about," she says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Queen Of Crime' PD James Was A Master Of Her Craft

A remembrance of murder mystery writer PD James, who died Thursday at her home in Oxford, England.
NPR

For A Century, Thanksgiving's Must-Haves Were Celery And Olives

Ari Shapiro speaks with Boston Globe editor Hilary Sargent on the use of celery and olives as popular meal items during Thanksgivings of the past and their eventual fade from popularity.
NPR

EPA's Proposed Rules Add To Obama's Collision Course With GOP

The Environmental Protect Agency has drafted regulations on Ozone pollution. The latest move exposes divisions between the Obama administration and leading Republican lawmakers over the environment.
NPR

Millennial Doctors May Be More Tech-Savvy, But Is That Better?

Text messages from your doctor are just the start. Millennials are the next generation of doctors and they're not afraid to say "chillax" in a consultation or check Twitter to find medical research.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.