Even the standard measurement of poverty, the “poverty line,” fails to accurately reflect the struggles of modern Americans to make ends meet.
AUSTIN, Texas — The financial collapse of 2008 and the absence of true economic recovery in the years since has left millions more children in poverty than before the recession. About 22 percent of American children live in poverty, and even that figure may not fully account for all those who are struggling.
According to the annual Kids Count Data Report, which ranks states based on the well-being of children living there, about 3 million more children were impoverished in 2013 than in 2008, an increase of 3 percent that brings the total number of children in poverty to 16,087,000. Following the report’s release, Al-Jazeera America and The Associated Press noted:
Other studies in recent years have yielded similar results. A 2014 UNICEF report looked at the decline in incomes since the financial collapse and found that over one-third of American children live in households where the combined income is less than 60 of the median household income in 2008, a sign of the so-called “jobless recovery” since the crash. Christopher Ingraham, analyzing the report for The Washington Post, noted that this makes the U.S. among the worst in the developed world for its treatment of children:
“The United States ranks near the bottom of the pack of wealthy nations on a measure of child poverty … In the richest nation in the world, one in three kids live in poverty. Let that sink in.”
Yet even these figures do not account for the total number of children from families that may struggle to make ends meet. The National Center for Children in Poverty reported in January that 44 percent of children in the U.S. — about 31.8 million children — come from low-income families.
Further, the idea of the “poverty line” itself, developed in the 1960s by the U.S. Census Bureau, may be out of date when it comes to inequality. For one thing, the poverty line was designed around the notion that most families would have a full-time housewife able to skillfully and economically prepare meals from scratch.
When John Light, a journalist and former associate digital producer for BillMoyers.com, looked at the problems of measuring poverty in 2013, he found most government measures failed to account for decades of changes in lifestyle and increases in food costs:
“[S]ome recent studies place the share of a family’s income spent on food as low as six or seven percent of total household expenditures. That would mean Americans today are spending roughly 1/14th of their income on food, compared with the one-third figure used to calculate the poverty guidelines.”
He found that other major, under-measured changes for American families include dramatic increases to the costs of childcare and travel, including longer daily commutes to work, as well as massive cuts in social welfare programs that can leave today’s families without a safety net.