The U.S. Census Bureau announced on March 2, 2010 that it will be developing an alternative way to measure poverty. This new method will better reflect the realities facing struggling families and ways in which current government programs can help them to get back on their feet. Unlike the traditional poverty measure, which is based in a 1960s reality, this supplemental measure will provide a more accurate accounting of household budgets and better determination of whether a family has enough resources to meet its most basic needs.
Why does this supplemental poverty measure matter for those concerned about good and efficient government? First, the new measure will provide a more accurate picture of how families are faring and what types of expenditures are driving household budgets. This data can help us understand how well the federal government is responding to the recession and what types of policies are most effective at helping those families striving to join the middle class. For example, a recent study using a National Academy of Sciences-type poverty measure revealed that just seven provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act were helping keep more than 6 million Americans out of poverty and reduced the severity of poverty for 33 million more.
Second, it will help us to better understand the impact of current antipoverty programs, which will allow the government to focus policy approaches on what works in alleviating poverty and distinguish between well-functioning programs and those in need of reform.
Finally, we will be able to better evaluate future policies. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been testing and evaluating innovative strategies to tackle poverty in New York. Some of these proposals could end up lifting many families out of poverty and saving considerable money over the long run. Of course, some might not work at all, and if that is the case, then that’s a reason to try a different approach and keep trying until the toolkit of approaches is the one that is most effective and most efficient.
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