The federal government now considers a family of four in New York City to be poor if its pre-tax income is below $37,900.Even with full medical coverage.
The calculation helps explain why newly revised Census Bureau figures hike the number of poor Americans to 49 million as of last year, further widening an already yawning gap between ordinary perceptions of poverty and how the government sees it.
This breathtaking number begs the question: What does it mean to be “poor” in the United States?
To the average American, the word “poverty” means significant material hardship and need. It means lack of a warm, dry home, recurring hunger and malnutrition, no medical care, worn-out clothes for the children. The mainstream media reinforce this view: The typical TV news story on poverty features a homeless family with kids living in the back of a van.
But poverty as the federal government defines it differs greatly from these images. Only 2 percent of the official poor are homeless. According to the government’s own data, the typical poor family lives in a house or apartment that’s not only in good repair but is larger than the homes of the average non-poor person in England, France or Germany.