The regular old, still-official poverty line is simple and understandable. It is the level that bought a minimal market basket of food in 1963-4, adjusted for subsequent inflation and multiplied by three. As such it measures what people think a poverty line measures–how many people fall below certain absolute living standards, whether basic human needs are being met. We’ve been using it for decades, so while it may be too high or too low people have a rough feel for what it is and what it isn’t.
The new “supplemental” poverty line is a complicated measure produced by formulas that are barely understood by poverty experts. It takes into account in-kind government benefits, which is fine, and regional costs-of-living. But at its core it is a deception: it measures not absolute poverty but relative poverty–i.e. inequality. . . . Under the old poverty line, “poverty” could be eliminated as society got richer–an achievable and widely shared goal. But the new poverty line will rise as society gets richer. . . . Most scandalously, the Census’ own official press release explanation doesn’t let Americans in on the secret of the new numbers.