Everyone knows what the poverty line is. Well, most people do. It refers to the poverty threshold determined by the Census Bureau since 1963, and it’s completely outdated. How’s that? Well, there are a couple different reasons, but it all boils down to assumptions about how families work. Assumptions that have been thrown to the side as time has passed. Even at a quick glance, it’s abundantly clear the definition lacks any kind of credibility. The poverty threshold assumes that a family has a stay-at-home parent capable of budgeting groceries properly and regularly feeding their family. These were based largely on grocery needs. This leaves us with some interesting implications.
For one thing, having a stay-at-home parent in the household is to assume that there’s only one breadwinner in the family, something not very reflective of the society we currently live in. Not only that, but it doesn’t factor in the cost of the second car required to get the other breadwinner to work, the nanny required to take care of the children, or the decrease in male pay due to mothers being part of the work force. Costs of living have risen, and with it, parents need to spend more time at work, a development lost on the classic determination of poverty. Not to mention the shifting budgets. As time has marched on, costs of groceries (the former highest expenditure) have dramatically decreased over the years, while housing and healthcare have taken over. Expenditures today are very different than expenditures in the sixties, and not adjusting to these changes places the poverty line in very different place.
According to adjusted rates, we’ve actually done quite a bit in fighting poverty, in large part due to the safety net we’ve developed since the New Deal. With poverty being determined more by whether one can afford housing rather than food, social ideas of what poverty looks like are becoming incredibly outdated.