RECOMMENDATION 2.2. The new poverty threshold should be updated each year to reflect changes in consumption of the basic goods and services contained in the poverty budget: determine the dollar value that represents the designated percentage of the median level of expenditures on the sum of food, clothing, and shelter for two-adult/two-child families and apply the designated multiplier. To smooth out year-to-year fluctuations and to lag the adjustment to some extent, perform the calculations for each year by averaging the most recent 3 years' worth of data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, with the data for each of those years brought forward to the current period by using the change in the Consumer Price Index.

RECOMMENDATION 2.3. When the new poverty threshold concept is first implemented and for several years thereafter, the Census Bureau should produce a second set of poverty rates for evaluation purposes by using the new thresholds updated only for price changes (rather than for changes in consumption of the basic goods and services in the poverty budget).

RECOMMENDATION 2.4. As part of implementing a new official U.S. poverty measure, the current threshold level for the reference family of two adults and two children ($14,228 in 1992 dollars) should be reevaluated and a new threshold level established with which to initiate a new series of poverty statistics. That reevaluation should take account of both the new threshold concept and the real growth in consumption that has occurred since the official threshold was first set 30 years ago.


Given a poverty threshold for a reference family of two adults and two children, the next step is to develop appropriate thresholds for families with more and fewer members and different numbers of adults and children. We recommend that the reference family threshold be adjusted by means of an ''equivalence scale" to determine thresholds for other family types. There is no consensus in the scientific literature on the precise form of an appropriate equivalence scale, although there is agreement on some properties of such a scale and that the scale implicit in the official poverty thresholds is flawed.

We recommend that the scale recognize that children under age 18 on average consume less than adults, but that the scale not further distinguish family members by age or other characteristics. We also recommend that the scale add a decreasing amount for each adult (or adult equivalent) family member to reflect economies of scale available to larger families, such as their

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement