Poverty in the United States is one of many difficult problems handled today. In 2010, 15.1% of the American population was living below the poverty threshold. But, how did the government calculate the poverty rate? The United States government uses the Orshansky poverty thresholds, which uses family budgets to determine if the family is above or below the poverty threshold. The current United States poverty measure is an absolute, headcount measure using family income as its scale of resources. However, many would agree that the poverty measure is flawed and that the poverty measure overstates how many people are really in poverty. This is a problem because resources government programs uses to help the poor can unevenly distribute.
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So how did her food budget measure get to become the national poverty measure? In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared “war” on poverty and wanted to show the American public that he was doing just that. The easiest way to show progress at any time during the “war” was to make comparisons among the poor with an inflexible “measuring stick”. In other words, Johnson needed an absolute measure of poverty.
Being published at the right time, Orshansky’s measure appealed to the Johnson administration because of the absolute poverty threshold based on food consumption and food budgets. So Johnson’s administration took Orshansky’s measure, but they modified the measure to fit their needs. There were two budgets that the poverty measure could have used: the low-cost food plan and the economy food plan. The USDA created the low-cost food plan to describe the normal budget with emphasis on frugality. It also created the economy food plan, which was a food budget for emergencies and only took bare minimums so even less than the low-cost food plan. Johnson’s administration took Orshansky’s measure and used the economy food plan to create its threshold, making it very low. The Johnson administration used the Orshansky measure to objectively show that the American people were winning the “war on poverty”.
Orshansky was not happy about the new poverty measure and “wrote articles criticizing it and explaining that her work had been misused”