Poverty in America: Census Bureau Releases Alternative Measurements

New calculations say that poverty in America could be as few as 39 million or as many as 53 million people.


By Carol Morello, Washington Post

The Census Bureau took a baby step toward redefining what is considered poor in America on Tuesday when it released several alternative measurements of poverty, fundamentally revising a one-size-fits-all formula developed in the 1960s by a civil servant.

Under a complex series of eight alternative measurements, the Census Bureau calculated that in 2009, the number of Americans living in poverty could have been as few as 39 million or as many as almost 53 million. Under the official calculation, the census estimated that about 44 million were subsisting on incomes below the poverty line of about $21,750 for a family of four. The alternatives generally set the poverty threshold higher, as much as $29,600 for a couple with two children.

In September the census estimated that the nation's poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent. Under the alternatives, it could have been as low as 12.8 percent or as high as 17.1 percent.

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