As if there weren’t enough bad news to go around, a new(ish) formula for calculating the national poverty rate could boost the number of over-65 poor from 9.7 percent — or 3.6 million of us — to 8.6 percent, or a hefty 6.8 million. Just like that, the poor get poorer; or in any event they get to be more of us.
It’s not really a new formula, it’s a revision of the half-century-old National Academy of Science’s formula…
which is gaining credibility with public officials, including some in the Obama administration. The original formula, created in 1955, doesn’t take account of rising costs of medical care and other factors.
If the academy’s formula is adopted, a more refined picture of American poverty could emerge that would capture everyday costs of necessities besides food. The result could upend long-standing notions of those in greatest need and lead eventually to shifts in how billions of federal dollars for the poor are distributed for health, housing, nutrition and child-care benefits.
Using this formula, overall poverty in the U.S. would rise to an estimated 15.3 percent, or 45.7 million.
The current calculation sets the poverty level at three times the annual cost of groceries. For a family of four that is $21,203. That calculation does not factor in rising medical, transportation, child care and housing expenses or geographical variations in living costs.
I’m not at all sure my current family of two could eat (OK, and drink too, with an occasional dinner out) on $21,203. It may certainly be time for a re-calculation. And a little more help.