A welcome step: Retaking the measure of U.S. poverty

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

You can't solve a problem without accurately defining it. The announcement that the U.S. government will produce an experimental poverty measure ["New formula to give fresh look at poverty," news story, March 3] is a welcome first step toward fixing one of the fundamental indicators of economic well-being -- the U.S. poverty rate.

Research by the National Center for Children in Poverty demonstrates the flaws of the current measure. A family of four is considered poor if its income is less than $22,050 a year. According to the center's research, it takes double that amount for such a family to make ends meet. Any new definition of poverty cannot be "supplemental" to the current, egregiously outdated definition we now use if America is to get anywhere on this corrosive issue.

While we are encouraged by this news coming from the government, it does not go far enough. We urge continued, aggressive diligence from our lawmakers until a modern, meaningful definition of poverty exists, so we can accurately help the more than 40 million Americans who live in poverty.

Janice L. Cooper, New York

The writer is interim director of the National Center for Children in Poverty.

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Three cheers to the Commerce Department and Undersecretary Rebecca M. Blank for updating the way the federal government measures people in poverty. By accounting for the realities of a family's budget -- including increased costs of living as well as supplemental income sources and cash assistance -- a more precise map of poverty in the United States will be created. Having accurate information on the economic situation of Americans will allow government at all levels to efficiently target its resources and ensure that policymakers have the correct information as they make decisions on the creation, reduction, expansion or elimination of programs that help those in need.

Richard Alarcón, Los Angeles

The writer is a member of the Los Angeles City Council.


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