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 of poverty 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.
Lipman, Francine J.
"(Anti)Poverty Measures Exposed,"
Florida Tax Review: Vol. 21, Article 6.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/ftr/vol21/iss1/6