This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. But exactly how successful has the war been, and should it be continued the same way? A lot of criticism has been leveled at government programs and whether they have been at all helpful. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate is at 15 percent, but the way poverty is measured really needs to be reevaluated. To do this, we have to consider a couple of important issues.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


What’s Wrong with the Poverty Measure?

  • The poverty line is currently determined by the subsistence food budget multiplied by 3. When the poverty threshold was first developed in the1960s, food accounted for about one-third of a family’s income,  but it now is about one-eighth. Yet, the poverty threshold has only been adjusted for inflation. Shouldn’t the poverty measure be altered, since the spending percentages have changed so drastically?
  • The poverty measure only accounts for cash income. This means that the full impact of the government’s resource allocation is not adequately measured. Many programs give near-cash benefits, like food and housing assistance, and should be accounted for as resources. In addition, the poverty measure does not recognize expenses such as childcare, transportation and medical bills.

Poverty measurement should be changed to show how government programs and other policy decisions actually help impoverished families. Our current poverty measure does not do this, and it makes it difficult to assess the success of these programs.

If the poverty measure is used to determine public policies for low-income families, along with accounting for necessary expenses, the poverty rate could be totally different than measured being.

These two items are some of the biggest reasons why the poverty measure is not inclusive for all the resources for the impoverished. We cannot make statements about the success of these programs based on the poverty rate if that same measure doesn’t adequately discuss how the programs assist them.

What do you think? How should the government alter programs to alleviate poverty?