There's No Cost Like Home: Using a More Accurate Measure to Effectively Combat Poverty in America
In order to win the War on Poverty that was officially begun over 40 years ago, the United States must first accurately identify the families that live in real poverty. For the last 40 years, however, the United States has utilized a poverty measure that was defined using the cost of food as the primary determinant. Today, housing costs far exceed any other expense for most families. Therefore, a housing-based measure would more accurately identify the number of families that lack a socially acceptable amount of money, and hence are living in true poverty. This research combines the well-established official federal poverty thresholds with a new construct called "housing-induced poverty" to answer the following questions: - How many families are living in true poverty in America, as defined using the housing-induced poverty measure? - How many of these families are living in housing-induced poverty but are not currently recognized as living in poverty under the existing guidelines? - What household characteristics increase the likelihood that a family will be living in housing-induced poverty? - What would be the policy ramifications of broadening the definition of poverty to the more accurate housing-induced poverty measure? Using data from the 2003 American Housing Survey, an estimated 28.3 million families (more than one quarter of all households) are living in true poverty based on the housing-induced poverty measure. Of these families, 17.2 million are currently not considered to be living in real poverty under the existing poverty thresholds. Not surprisingly, the likelihood that a family is living in housing-induced poverty varies across race and ethnicity, geography, financial arrangement (owners vs. renters), the type of rental assistance received, the number of children and elderly in the household, and the income earned by the family. Moving to the more accurate housing-induced poverty measure would have huge policy implications, since at least 31 government programs at the federal level alone rely on the official poverty guidelines to help determine program eligibility. Nonetheless, properly identifying who is most in need of help is an absolutely essential step in addressing the needs of America's least fortunate.
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