As we’ve been hearing for years, census data shows that serious poverty has been rising dramatically in the US. A new article in the New York Times, however, shows that those statistics may be less reliable than often claimed:
Concocted on the fly a half-century ago, the official poverty measure ignores ever more of what is happening to the poor person’s wallet — good and bad. It overlooks hundreds of billions of dollars the needy receive in food stamps and other benefits and the similarly formidable amounts they lose to taxes and medical care. It even fails to note that rents are higher in places like Manhattan than they are in Mississippi.On Monday, that may start to change when the Census Bureau releases a long-promised alternate measure meant to do a better job of counting the resources the needy have and the bills they have to pay. ..The fuller measures have also shown less poverty among children but more among older Americans, who are plagued by high medical costs. They have shown less poverty among blacks but more among Asians; less poverty in rural areas and more in cities and suburbs, where the cost of living is high. And they have found fewer people in abject destitution, but a great many more crowding the hard-luck ranks of the near poor, who do not qualify for many benefit programs and lose income to taxes, child care and medical costs. […]One alternate census data set quietly published last week said the number of poor people has grown by 4.6 million since 2006, not by 9.7 million as the bureau reported in September. At least 39 states showed no statistically significant poverty growth despite surging unemployment, according to an analysis by The New York Times, including Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.
It’s shocking that the US has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on sometimes ill advised and poorly monitored problems to end poverty without a solid and accurate definition of the target. Moreover, by not counting federal benefits in income calculations, we have been overstating the persistence of poverty and understating the results of our efforts to reduce it.The kind of cynic we don’t want working here at Via Meadia might suggest that the poverty lobby has been deliberately using inaccurate figures for years to get bigger appropriations than accurately informed taxpayers and representatives would accept. And a deep and ugly cynic would point to the poor record of the mainstream press at exposing and challenging this scam. Was it a state secret all these years that the poverty rate was “calculated on the fly” and that the headline numbers systematically overstated both the prevalence and the severity of poverty? How many stories have we all read in which those bogus numbers were treated like gospel truth without any challenge from in-the-tank reporters?All the more reason to applaud the introduction of better numbers, and kudos to the Times for featuring the story so prominently. Too many more stories like this, though, and the Times might be in danger of losing its reputation as an advocacy outlet for the blue social model.