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Measuring Poverty: A New Approach
duced from any set of scientific principles, facts, or arguments. Any updating method, be it one to ensure an absolute poverty threshold, a relative threshold, or one that falls somewhere in between, is a policy choice, not a scientific one. But unlike the previously discussed recommendation, this one would have a substantial impact on the level of poverty over time.
At various points, the report forthrightly states that many of its recommendations are not made on the basis of scientific evidence alone, that they also involve the value judgements of panel members. But this recommendation is all judgement and no science. The choice of how rapidly the poverty line should rise over time derives from society's values. Judgements about these values are more properly made by elected officials charged with translating societal values into law rather than in reports issued by scientific bodies.
CHOOSING A RANGE FOR THE POVERTY LINE
The report's introduction argues correctly that the choice of a poverty threshold is not a scientific one. The panel then concludes that the appropriate range for the poverty line is between $13,700 and $15,900 for a family of four.1 This range is between 14 and 33 percent higher than the comparable current poverty line. In terms of consumption of the three basic needs—food, clothing, and shelter—40 to 55 percent of four-person families consume less than this amount. The report attempts to create an impression that this range lies within the scientific community's consensus about where the poverty line should be drawn. The policy-making community should be aware that there is no consensus within the scientific community. Furthermore, even if there were, it should carry no more weight among policy makers than a consensus among theoretical physicists that they prefer tofu to beef burgers.
Choosing a poverty line or a range for that line is a policy maker's job, not the job of a scientific panel. Scientific expertise can inform policy makers' choices. For example, this expertise can be brought to bear on measuring and assessing living conditions at or near alternative poverty lines. Unfortunately, the report provides no information on the level of economic deprivation among persons at any of the poverty levels discussed.
MEASURING FAMILY RESOURCES: THE ISSUE OF MEDICAL CARE
For measuring family resources, the report recommends that out-of-pocket expenditures for medical care be subtracted from a family's income. This recommendation is troubling. It assumes that all medical care expenditures are
The report is vague about why the panel chose to label its range a conclusion instead of a recommendation. However, the distinction is immaterial since there is no scientific basis for recommending or concluding that a particular range is appropriate.