(Anti)Poverty Measures Exposed.

Author:Lipman, Francine J.
 
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Few economic indicators have more salience and pervasive financial impact on everyday lives in the United States than poverty measures. Nevertheless, policymakers, researchers, advocates, and legislators generally do not understand the details of poverty measure mechanics. These detailed mechanics shape and reshape poverty measures and the too often uninformed responses and remedies. This Article will build a bridge from personal portraits of families living in poverty to the resource allocations that failed them by exposing the specific detailed mechanics underlying the Census Bureau's official (OPM) and supplemental poverty measures (SPM). Too often, when we confront the problem of poverty, the focus is on the lives and behavior of those suffering the burdens of poverty and not on the inadequacy of resource allocations in antipoverty programs. The purpose ofpoverty measures should be to expose the effectiveness and failures of antipoverty programs so that they can be improved, not to scrutinize the lives and characteristics of those who are enduring these hardships.

This Article exposes poverty measures through the details of the United States' current antipoverty programs, including the demographics of the populations who are included as beneficiaries and those that are left without adequate resources to survive. After reverse engineering the OPM and SPM, the Article describes the raw data from the starting population universes but then reveals the details of U.S. citizens and residents who have been intentionally excluded from the poverty analysis. The Article reveals that the excluded population is likely disproportionately poor and, thus, their erasure from the starting population universe understates derived poverty rates. Therefore, as a starting point, the OPM and SPM exclude millions of vulnerable Americans from the Census Bureau's poverty measurement analyses. Nevertheless, the Article continues its poverty measure analysis using the Census Bureau's original databases and rebuilds the OPM and SPM from the original population universes by applying each resource allocation program by program until demographic patterns emerge of who is lifted out of poverty proportionately or disproportionately in accordance with their pre-allocation poverty percentages in the population universes. By shifting the focus from Americans who suffer scarcity to the details of each antipoverty program and the demographics of who and in what proportion they are served by these programs, we better understand why almost 50 million Americans, including 16 million children, are not adequately provided for; do not have the necessary life resources; are struggling day in and day out; have been "nickel and dimed"; and are not getting by in the United States; and who, because of the misallocation (not lack) of resources, suffer the persistent and pernicious plight of poverty.

  1. Introduction 392 A. What Is Poverty? 392 B. How Is Poverty Measured? 398 II. Poverty Measures Id 403 A. Who Is Measured? Who Is Excluded? 403 1. How Are Measurement Units Determined? 416 a. OPM Family Unit 417 b. SPM Household Unit 418 2. What Are the Poverty Thresholds? 419 a. Overview: Poverty Thresholds? Poverty Guidelines 419 i. Poverty Thresholds Generally 419 ii. Poverty Guidelines Generally 420 b. OPM Poverty Thresholds 421 c. SPM Poverty Thresholds 423 d. Sample Poverty Thresholds and Poverty Guidelines 424 B. What Resources Are Included for Each Unit to Determine If They Are Poor? 426 1. Market Income 428 2. OASDI and SSI 438 a. Social Security (OASDI) Antipoverty Benefits 439 b. OASDI Benefits Details 446 c. SSI Details 448 3. Unemployment Insurance and Veterans' Benefits 450 a. Details of Unemployment Insurance Benefits 450 b. Details of Veterans' Benefits 451 c. Demographic Distribution for Unemployment Insurance Benefits & Veterans' Benefits 452 4. Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) 457 5. Food Security 465 a. SNAP 466 b. National School Lunch Program 468 c. Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) 470 d. Demographics of Food Security Antipoverty Programs 473 6. Shelter Matters 479 a. Housing Subsidies 479 b. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) 483 c. Demographics of Housing and LIHEAP Antipoverty Subsidies 484 7. Taxes 489 a. Federal Income Taxes 489 b. State Income Taxes 491 c. Federal Payroll Taxes 492 d. Earned Income Tax and Child Tax Credits 493 e. Demographics of Net Tax Benefit Under the SPM 502 8. Medical Out-of-Pocket Expenses (MOOP) 506 a. Accounting for Actual MOOP Expenses 506 b. Demographics of the Push of MOOP into Poverty 508 9. Worker and Child Care Related Expenses 511 a. How Work and Child Care Expenses Are Determined 511 b. Demographics of Who Is Pushed into Poverty with Work and Child Care Expenses 512 III. Conclusions 515 A. Who Is Poor in America: Demographics of Poverty 515 1. Teasing Out Trends and Patterns 515 a. The Exclusion of Nine Million from the Poverty Measure 515 b. The Differences Between the OPM and SPM 517 2. Race-Based Income and Wealth Inequality 518 3. Work-Based Resources 523 4. MOOP and Work and Child Care Expenses 524 5. The Beginning 531 I. Introduction

    "Few topics in American society have more myths and stereotypes surrounding them than poverty, misconceptions that distort both our politics and our domestic policy making." (1)

    1. What Is Poverty?

      If I keep missing school, then I see my future poor, on the streets, in a box, not even, and asking for money everywhere, everybody, and then stealing stuff from stores. And, yeah, I don't want to steal stuff. I don't want to do any of that stuff. I want to get an education and a good job. I believe that I'm going to get a perfect job that I like and that I want to do. People can't stop you from believing in your own dreams. [Kaylie, age ten.] (2)

      Mollie Orshansky was a government economist in the 1960s who designed the poverty thresholds that the U.S. Census Bureau uses today to define poverty in the official poverty measure (OPM). (3) However, her goal was not to measure poverty but rather "to assess the relative risks of low economic status (or, more broadly, the differentials in opportunity) among different demographic groups of families with children." (4) After President Lyndon Johnson declared "war on poverty" in January 1964, the newly formed Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), which administered most of the antipoverty programs under the leadership of R. Sargent Shriver, adopted Orshansky's poverty thresholds as a working definition of poverty for statistical, planning, and budget purposes in May 1965. (5)

      After the OEO adopted her poverty thresholds, Orshansky answered the illusive question "What is poverty?" as follows : "[P]overty, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. Poverty is a value judgment; it is not something one can verify or demonstrate, except by inference and suggestion, even with a measure of error.... [W]hen it comes to defining poverty, you can only be more subjective or less so. You cannot be nonsubjective." (6)

      The analogy of "defining poverty" to "beholding beauty" is jarring because, subjectively or objectively, there is nothing particularly beautiful about poverty. (7) Poverty is hunger, (8) homelessness, (9) and harmful to the mind, body, and soul. (10) Poverty is situational, (11) generational, (12) urban, (13) rural, (14) with an absolutist core and relative qualities. (15) Poverty is expensive, (16) persistent, (17) pervasive, (18) and criminalized in the United States today. (19)

      Defining poverty has been and continues to be politically charged and controversial, (20) "[a]lthough poverty is a concrete phenomenon for those that live it." (21) As Justice Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court noted about pornography, poverty too may be indefinable, but you know it when you see it. (22) After declaring "war on poverty" in 1964, President Johnson and his wife, "Lady Bird," brought poverty into the living rooms of America's upper and middle classes with their media-rich, televised, white-hat-and-heels poverty tour in Appalachia. (23) More recently, amidst the heat and humidity in August 2011, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West embarked on, and later televised, an 18-city "Call to Conscience" poverty tour designed to highlight and humanize the plight of America's poor during the most recent unprecedented economic downturn. (24) They wrote a poverty manifesto, which attempts to define, describe, demystify, demythologize, deconstruct, and propose a remedy for poverty in the twenty-first century. (25) Nevertheless, poverty continues to be elusive to encapsulate. However, the federal government does measure it annually.

    2. How Is Poverty Measured?

      When you look at a homeless shelter, there are an awful lot of people in there who do have an education, who did go to school, and all it took was one paycheck, one electricity or utility bill that they didn't pay, that can cause things to start going wrong. (26) The federal government has officially measured poverty since the mid-1960s. (27) Beginning annually in 1969, the government has publicly released OPM statistics. (28) In response to decades of criticism of the OPM, the federal government has developed an alternative, more modern and relevant measure that they are now producing together with the OPM annually. (29) The new measure is titled the "supplemental poverty measure (SPM)" and has been generated and produced beginning in November of 2011 reflecting 2010 data. (30) The U.S. Census Bureau generates annual income and poverty reports summarizing the annual OPM and SPM statistics. (31)

      As Mollie Orshansky, the creator of the U.S. poverty thresholds wisely observed, "[t]here is no particular reason to count the poor unless you are going to do something about them." (32) Reporting on the percentage of poor under the OPM and SPM is only useful if advocates and policy makers use the data to determine why, to...

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