Redefining Poverty

Statisticians try to frame the question in purely objective terms, but any answer is bound to have political overtones: Who is poor? Currently, the Government's official definition of poverty is based solely on cash income. A nonfarm family of four, for example, was considered to be poor if its annual income in 1981 was less than $9,290. This standard, however, does not take into account noncash benefits like food stamps, medical care and subsidized housing. Since 1965, the market value of those benefits has grown from $2.2 billion to more than $72 billion, and the programs account for two out of...

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