NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 14, 2010

The Census Bureau's formal release of an alternative way to measure poverty in the United States is 16 months away, but the rumblings of unease can already be heard about the politically sensitive indicator, says the Washington Times. 

The bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which will be released September 2011, is "a bogus and dishonest propaganda device," Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told a Brookings Institution briefing recently. 

"It's a Trojan horse," introduced under the name of poverty, but designed to find endless "income inequality" that must be fixed with even more spending on anti-poverty programs, Rector said. The government will spend $900 billion on means-tested aid to poor and low-income persons this year alone, he added. 

  • Policy experts have been working for at least 15 years on a new poverty standard to supplement -- or eventually replace -- the measure that has been used since the 1960s, a measure that many critics say does not reflect contemporary realities and needs.
  • The problem: some experts think the current measure overstates the number of poor Americans, while another group argues it vastly understates the number.  

"Call me cynical, but I can see this [measure] as an attempt to redistribute more wealth further down the road," said Pamela Villarreal, who studies tax issues at the National Center for Policy Analysis. 

"I think that what is going to happen is that, even though this is an alternative measure [today], there's going to be a lot of political pressure to make this alternative measure the standard measure.  And then you're going to see a lot more money devoted to fighting poverty," said Ms. Villarreal. 

Source: Cheryl Wetzstein, "Reaction mixed on proposed poverty measure; Critics see higher spending on anti-poverty programs," Washington Times, May 14, 2010. 

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