Drawing the Line on Poverty

CBP staff and others have long argued that the federal poverty line is an outdated measure for gauging how families are faring economically. Calculated originally at three times what families spent for food in the 1950s, it doesn’t take into account our state’s high cost of living or include the cost of child care in determining families’ needs. CBP staff are hard at work right now updating Making Ends Meet, a report we update and release every two years to show more accurately what it costs to raise a family in California.

Now there’s movement at the federal level to modernize this standard, which is used to estimate how many families live in poverty and determine eligibility for programs such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) has reintroduced legislation that would develop a poverty measure based on the current costs of food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and other necessities. Significant for a high-cost state such as California, it would also calculate regional differences in the cost of living.

As Dodd said recently, “Improving the poverty measure is not just an academic exercise for statisticians, it is essential in helping us identify and implement effective policies that address this (poverty) crisis.”

— Lisa Gardiner

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