Who is Poor?

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By THOMAS B. EDSALL

There are three ways of defining poverty in America: the official Census Bureau method, which uses a set of income thresholds that vary by family size and composition; an experimental income-based method called the Supplemental Poverty Measure that factors in government programs designed to help people with low incomes; and a consumption-based method that measures what households actually spend.

By defining poverty according to different criteria, these three methods capture surprisingly different populations of men, women and children. In a perfect world, these three methods would all tell us to do the same thing to alleviate poverty, but it’s not like that. Each method suggests a different approach toward how our government should direct its poverty-fighting resources.

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