For decades, there has been concern about the way that the United States measures poverty. The current measure was developed in the 1960’s. At the time, a family was considered poor if they had income below a line that was roughly equal to 50% of the median income. Because of the way that the measure was calculated, as income and costs increased, the poverty line did not keep pace. Under the current measure, a family must have a significantly lower income today as compared to the general population than when the measure was devised.
A family of four lives under the poverty line if they have income of less than $22,050. There are many District families with incomes well above the poverty line who struggle to make ends meet. The National Low Income Housing Coalition found that the average two bedroom apartment in the District costs nearly $20,000 per year. Following the generally accepted affordability definition that housing should make up 30% of income, a District family would need to earn $60,000 per year, nearly three times the federal poverty measure.
In 1995, the National Academy of Sciences developed an alternative poverty measure that more closely matches the actual costs that a family needs to meet in order to live. The Census Bureau has collected data on the new measure and for several years has published it as a supplement to the official poverty data. The Census is now seeking comments on the measure and how it should be applied.
Comments on the poverty measure are due Friday June 25, 2010. See the public notice HERE.