was developed along these lines, although only one "necessity"—a minimum diet—was specified; other necessary consumption was subsumed in the multiplier of three applied to the costs of the minimum diet.
More recently, Townsend (1979, 1992:5, 10) has given a social dimension to economic deprivation. Townsend observes that people are "social beings expected to perform socially demanding roles as workers, citizens, parents, partners, neighbors, and friends." He argues that economic poverty should be defined as the lack of sufficient income for people to "play the roles, participate in the relationships, and follow the customary behavior which is expected of them by virtue of their membership of society." As an example, one could argue that having a telephone is essential in a developed country for everything from job seeking to having relationships with family and friends.
Given a concept such as Smith's or Townsend's or, indeed, virtually any concept of economic deprivation, the issue is how to define the key terms—"necessaries," "indecent…to be without," "customary behavior.'' Although there may be a general sense in a society of what are "necessities" or what is "customary behavior," the attempt to be specific inevitably raises questions and leads to debate about the very meaning of economic poverty.
Throughout this report, our approach is pragmatic. We first assess how well the official U.S. poverty measure is serving as a barometer and benchmark for policy, research, and general public understanding about an important aspect of deprivation. We conclude that, given socioeconomic and public policy changes since the measure was developed, it is no longer satisfactory for those purposes. We then review the properties of some common alternative measures to determine which of them could represent an improvement. Our goal is not to develop the ideal poverty measure on which everyone would agree (which surely does not exist), but to propose a measure that is a marked improvement over the current one—just as the official measure, when first developed by Mollie Orshansky, was regarded as a marked improvement over competing measures at that time.
Our measure includes a specific concept of economic poverty by which to develop a new poverty threshold for a reference family type: inadequate resources to obtain basic living needs. We define those basic needs as food, clothing, and shelter. There are other needs as well (e.g., personal care, transportation), but there is less agreement about them, and so our approach provides a small amount for other needed spending by means of a multiplier that is applied to the amounts for food, clothing, and shelter.
This concept of poverty as insufficient resources for basic living needs accords with traditional public concerns for the needy, whether expressed in provisions for homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and clothing drives, or the provision of cash or in-kind benefits for basic consumption. It is also not inconsistent with and, in our view, improves on, the concept that was originally used to derive the current thresholds, namely, the application of a multiplier for other needed spending to a minimum allowance for food.