Redefining Poverty In The U.S.

The Census Bureau is studying ways to redefine poverty, a move that could potentially send millions of families below the new poverty line.

The analysis was prompted by a report earlier this year by the National Academy of Sciences, said Edward Welniak, chief of income and poverty statistics at the bureau. Welniak said the goal is to improve the measure of poverty, which was established decades ago.

In addition to redefining the poverty threshold itself, which could increase the number of people considered poor, the bureau has also studied for several years whether to include all or part of non-cash benefits as income for the poor, a change that could reduce the number in poverty. Among the non-cash benefits studied were housing assistance and food stamps.

The New York Times reported Monday that under a new poverty formula being considered, for a family of four to be considered above the poverty line, their annual income would have to be $19,500 a year, instead of the current $16,600 per year.

That change would make 46 million Americans, 17 percent of the population, poor. Last month, only 12.7 percent were considered poor, the lowest level in almost a decade.

The current poverty formula was created during President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration and has not changed since 1965, except for inflation adjustments. The new poverty measure is an attempt to determine what poor people spend on food, clothing, housing and extras, The Times said.

A higher poverty line would mean a rise in government spending to pay for benefits such for the poor, such as food stamps.

Officials at the White House, which would have to authorize the change in the poverty formula, said a few more years of work needs to be done before poverty can be redefined.