Many Americans have a limited understanding of what it means to live in poverty. Economics is the study of the manner in which individuals or parties handle scarcity, which is the circumstance that occurs when the availability of resources to satisfy a desire is insufficient in meeting that particular want. Given the aforementioned definition, poverty can be defined as the condition in which scarcity is so overwhelming that one is not simply deprived of luxury, but also of the resources necessary to live a healthy and stable life. This interpretation of the term poverty is a more qualitative description. Albeit this qualitative description, the ways in which poverty are measured in the U.S. today rely too heavily on quantitative measurement in the form of income and consumption.
In the United States there are three primary means of measurement to assess poverty, the Census Bureau Method, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, and the Consumption-Based Method. The Census Bureau Method utilizes a series of money income thresholds dependent on family size and structure in order to determine who does (or does not) live in poverty. These thresholds are constant throughout the nation and are not dependent on geographical location. If a family’s total income falls below the established threshold, then the family is officially impoverished. One can claim that the Supplemental Poverty Measure provides a more insightful and encompassing definition of poverty because it also takes into account the monetary value of the government aid low-income families and individuals have received. Lastly, the Consumption-Based Method defines poverty by looking at one’s consumption over the course of a given year.
Although some of these means of measurement incorporate factors that go beyond income, these standards are still heavily number-based in a way that provide an insubstantial description of poverty that neglects the influence of non-economical factors on the economy. To get an accurate representation of the state of poverty in the United States, poverty must be considered using qualitative factors as well. One example of such a novel perspective is seen in Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s, Counselor to the President for Urban Affairs, memorandum to President Nixon. The memo unofficially titled the “Benign Neglect” memo summarizes the cultural and living conditions of blacks such that Nixon would have some platform from which he could actively take charge against the issue of black poverty in the urban underclass. In tis case, Moynihan uses quantitative factors in the form of percentages and family income in conjunction with more qualitative factors such a description of the skewed family structures and dynamics in the black-populated, urban underclasses. Although there are some faults with Moynihan’s specific approach, I find his attempt to discuss poverty as defined by both quantitative and qualitative terms to be a more progressive and accurate description of poverty. I will discuss more in-depth the ways in which poverty ought to be measured in our current society.