an item, such as food, that seems relatively well grounded in human physiology. It may be feasible for experts to develop "minimum" standards for food on the basis of nutrition needs alone, but because tastiness and some variety are part of the notion of a minimally adequate diet, even experts will rely on actual consumption patterns and not just nutritional need. In this way, judgement inevitably enters any calculation. We believe it best if these judgements are introduced and explained explicitly.
Even more we question the use of a large multiplier applied to a single commodity, particularly a multiplier that reflects the total expenditures of the average family. With this approach, if applied regularly, the thresholds will be updated to reflect increased spending on most goods and services, not just basic goods and services. In other words, it is more akin to a completely relative concept, like one-half median family income or expenditures (see Table 1-3).
An expert budget approach in which standards are set for a number of goods and services, with perhaps only a small "other" or "miscellaneous" category, avoids the problem of a large multiplier. However, this approach necessitates making a large number of specific judgements about approved expenditures for the poor, each of which must be reexamined for updating purposes. It is true that any approach involves judgements, and the poverty thresholds that result from expert budgets may prove no less acceptable than other thresholds (just as the original SSA thresholds found wide acceptability). However, we believe it best for deriving the official U.S. poverty thresholds to minimize the number of judgements required and, further, to link the thresholds directly, rather than indirectly, to actual spending patterns.
A relative concept for the reference family poverty threshold, such as one-half the median level of family income or expenditures (adjusted for family composition), makes explicit the judgement that is involved in setting a poverty level. Although one-half the median is the commonly used standard, it could just as well be some other percentage of median income. Also, as usually implemented, a relative concept provides for an automatic, regular updating of the poverty thresholds for real changes in living standards, as new data on income or expenditures become available.
In spite of these attractive characteristics, we believe that a completely relative concept would find little public support. First, it makes no reference at all to a budget and, hence, gives no sense of what a poverty standard entails, except that it is some fraction of median income or expenditures. Second, a relative concept, applied regularly, will update the poverty thresholds for real changes in total consumption, including luxuries as well as necessities. Moreover, the thresholds will reflect short-term changes in the business cycle—both up and down—as well as longer term changes. In an economic down-turn, the thresholds will likely decline in real terms, with the possibly counterintuitive result that the poverty rate falls as well. It certainly seems