One of the great debates about “poverty level” is the relative standard to a society. A common economic conservative charge, often leveled by me, and valid in some other contexts, is that the “poor” in America (this writer included) have a higher standard of living than most people in the world, that even the poorest Americans cannot compare themselves to those in, say, Haiti or Ethiopia.
Another argument goes that judged in terms of “wealth” or “net worth” or “success,” a “poor” subsistence farmer in a third world country is actually wealther than most Americans, because he owns his own property outright, owns his labor and the product of his labor, and lives within his means. Since even most “wealthy” Americans rely on debt in some way, the zero-debt, owns-his-land and produce farmer has greater net worth, security and success than most millionaires.
A new study redefines the poverty level based upon the expected standard of living in the US. Consider, for example, that in countries like Haiti, most people don’t own cars. Most people walk, or ride in old-fashioned carts, or hitchhike. In Haiti, you show up when you show up (except Mass–you get to Mass on time every morning).
In the US, we expect everyone *on time*, down to the second. The standard is based upon the presumption that everyone should have a car at his or her disposal. The extra time it takes to travel by mass transit or cab or bicycle or whatever is not taken into account.
Similarly, what about getting to work? Our Third World subsistence farmer can walk out of his house and go to work. Most people in his country do the same. In our country, people can work hundreds of miles from where they live.
There are many expectations we make of our citizenry just so they can exist.
So a new standard of measuring poverty doesn’t really change the poverty index so much as adjusting people’s income for the costs of just existing in America. Poverty index is based upon traditional food, shelter and clothing. This new study tries to level things out for the cost of earning a living to begin with.