noted that this is not to say that these choices are arbitrary or capricious; rather, judgment is needed, along with a thorough understanding of the issues at hand.
One question that arose was whether setting a dollar value for the reference family threshold in the new measure should, in the interest of maintaining some continuity between old and new measures, be influenced by the current official measure. A few alternatives were discussed, including using an “equal rate” method, which would set the new threshold at a level that would, by design, produce a poverty rate that equaled the official poverty rate in a particular base year (after which it would presumably diverge in one direction or another). The advantages of this method are that it would provide a more seamless change in measured poverty rates from the current official measure, and it would provide a good sense of how the composition of the poverty population differs when using the alternative measure. The main disadvantage of this method is that the threshold would in essence be an artifact and not inherently meaningful—its level would depend entirely on the official poverty rate in a given year.
An alternative method for achieving some continuity between the old and new poverty measures would be to set an “equal threshold,” for which the new reference family threshold is about the same dollar value as the official threshold. This approach could be helpful heuristically in making the transition to a revised poverty measure. Discussion of these alternatives indicated that there was little support for the “equal rate method” (setting the poverty rate of the alternative poverty measure to equal the official poverty rate in a given base year).
Many participants voiced support for the approach implemented in current Census Bureau reports on experimental poverty measures. With that approach, the dollar value of food, clothing, shelter, utilities, and a little more in the reference family threshold (for two adults and two children) does not differ very much from the reference family threshold in the current official measure; the CE-based reference family threshold was about $1,000 higher than the official threshold in 2002. The similarity in the thresholds, though, is not by design; rather, the NRC-recommended method of pricing expenditures on the basic items in the threshold just happens to be similar to the reference family threshold in the current measure.
It was also noted, however, that the revised threshold, while similar in value, actually represents as much as a 19 percent real increase in the value of the reference family threshold in recent Census Bureau publications,