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Measuring Poverty: A New Approach
and non-work-related transportation. However, it does not include such nondiscretionary expenses as taxes and child care and other costs of working, which are treated as deductions from income (see below).
Once a new reference family threshold is determined, it should be updated each year with more recent expenditure data. The recommended updating procedure will automatically, over time, reflect real changes in the consumption of basic goods and services without the need for a periodic and, inevitably, disruptive readjustment in the level. It represents a middle ground between the approach of simply updating the thresholds for price changes, which ignores changes in living standards over time, and the approach of updating the thresholds for changes in total consumption.
As part of implementing the proposed poverty measure, the current official threshold should be reevaluated in light of the proposed threshold concept, which treats certain expenses as deductions from income rather than as elements of the poverty budget. That evaluation should also consider the real growth in the standard of living that has occurred since the current threshold was first set for 1963.
We do not as a panel recommend a specific threshold with which to initiate the new poverty measure. Ultimately, that decision is a matter of judgement. We do, however, offer our conclusion about a range for that initial threshold. This conclusion represents our own judgement, informed by analysis of thresholds developed from other commonly used concepts, such as expert budgets, relative thresholds expressed as one-half median income or expenditures, and thresholds derived from responses to sample survey questions about the poverty line.
We believe that a reasonable range for the initial threshold for the reference family of two adults and two children is $13,700 to $15,900 (in 1992 dollars). The lower number equals the expenditures for food, clothing, and shelter ($11,950) by families at the 30th percentile of all two-adult/two-children families, with a multiplier of 1.15 for other needed expenditures; the higher number equals the expenditures for food, clothing, and shelter ($12,720) by families at the 35th percentile of all two-adult/two-children families, with a multiplier of 1.25 for other needed expenditures.
RECOMMENDATION2.1. A poverty threshold with which to initiate a new series of official U.S. poverty statistics should be derived from Consumer Expenditure Survey data for a reference family of four persons (two adults and two children). The procedure should be to specify a percentage of median annual expenditures for such families on the sum of three basic goods and services—food, clothing, and shelter (including utilities)—and apply a specified multiplier to the corresponding dollar level so as to add a small amount for other needs.