April 04, 2006


There is some good news and bad news about the poverty rate from a Feb. report of the Census Bureau. The good news is that the rate dropped by about 1/3; the bad news is that the drop occurred not because people are better off but because they counted it differently. This reminds El Cabrero of the old jokes about voting in his beloved state of West Virginia, where the most important thing is the way they were counted, not the way they were cast. (To view it, check

The new methodology has been challenged in a joint report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute called "POOR MEASUREMENT: New Census Report on Measuring Poverty Raises Concerns." According to CBPP and EPI, the new measures contain some features which are flawed, such as not sufficiently accounting for expenses such as child care and health care and for counting home ownership as a source of income. In addition, the Census report does not include recommendations on poverty measures by an expert panel of the National Academy of Sciences, which may be more complete than their the old or new methodology. Rates under the NAS measure are higher than the official rate. For the report, go to (www.epinet.org/issuebriefs/222/ib222.pdf).

Meanwhile, a recent article by John Cassidy in in the April 3 New Yorker draws attention to the long known but often neglected fact of relative poverty, or deprivation as measured by comparison to other people living in the same society. Social scientists have long known that relative poverty can be at least as damaging as absolute poverty.

A completely different way of approach the question was developed by Dr. Diana Pearce of the University of Washington. Rather than asking where poverty begins, she proposes focusing on where self-sufficiency begins. This method calculates self sufficiency standards for specific geographic areas and family compositions which show what kinds of wages are needed to provide for basic needs without relying on public or private assistance. Self-sufficiency standards have been adopted by many government and other agencies as benchmarks and as tools for policies and counseling. For more on this, check out www.sixstrategies.org.

Meanwhile, the point to keep in mind is that, regardless of how you count it, the growing gap between rich and poor, between the rich and everyone else, and the related middle class squeeze is something that concerns many people today. A strong middle class makes for a stable society.

As Goat Rope's old friend Aristotle pointed out long ago, "it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered, in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes, or at any rate than either singly; for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant. Great then is the good fortune of a state in which the citizens have a moderate and sufficient property; for where some possess much, and the others nothing, there may arise an extreme democracy, or a pure oligarchy; or a tyranny may grow out of either extreme..."

The Golden Mean gets lost when people get mean about gold.


1 comment:

Khazouh Baszhees said...

Your buddy Aristotle must be the absolute center of attention at your parties. "Hey, come over here! Watch this guy try to put together a sentence in under 100 words!" You need to get new friends.