Under the current system of measuring poverty, which was developed in the 1960s, the poverty line for people over 60 is $1,000 lower because older people eat less. It’s just one of the many peculiarities of a system that the Census Bureau has started to correct.
On Tuesday, the bureau released eight new measurements for poverty that take into account a number of factors currently ignored—from social welfare programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and subsidized housing to expenses like child care and owning more than one vehicle. Depending on the measurement, the poverty level in the United States in 2009 was between 12.8 percent and 17.1 percent. In September, the Census Bureau stated that using the old algorithm, it determined the poverty level to be at 14.3 percent.
In a prepared paper for the 2011 conference of the Allied Social Science Associations, Census Bureau researcher Kathleen Short said that while the old measuring system had been updated over the years, it was still outdated. New work, she writes, suggests more people should be identified as living in poverty: 15.7 percent of people, by this particular study's count.
“This new group of poor would consist of a larger proportion of elderly people, working families, and married-couple families than are identified by the official poverty measure,” she writes.