Shell Game

An article in The New York Times discusses how—in the face of reports that poverty in the US has exploded—the Census Bureau is planning to release “a long-promised alternate measure meant to do a better job of counting the resources the needy have and the bills they have to pay.” The new method of counting the poor will reportedly eliminate half the rise in poverty since 2006 by counting safety-net programs that “have played a large and mostly overlooked role in restraining hardship.”

This is nothing more than a shell game: changing the metric by which poverty is measured in order to say that there aren’t as many poor people. Whenever you reset any previously arbitrary measure to a new arbitrary measure, it becomes difficult if not impossible to judge progress over a long time.

More importantly, counting money and other aid given to the poor as a part of the measure of whether or not they are poor sort of misses the point that if they didn’t have those programs, they would, indeed be poor. It’s like claiming that people living in a famine zone aren’t in danger of starvation because they’re getting food aid. Sure, but what if the food stops?

This change is nothing more than an outgrowth of the Republican mantra that if the “poor” have refrigerators and cell phones then they can’t really be poor.