Looking for a good woman…

Posted by Philabundance on December 6th, 2010

Before you begin clogging my inbox with marriage proposals, restraining orders, etc.- allow me to clarify.  I’m not looking for a good woman.  No, I found the only woman who would put up with my passionate karaoke rendition of Seal’s “Kiss from Rose.”  In fact, it is your US Census Bureau that’s looking for said proverbial “good woman.”

Allow me to explain.

As anyone who has ever tried to get by on a minimum wage salary can testify― the current US poverty level is, for lack of a better word, a joke.  The measure was developed in 1963 by the well-intentioned Mollie Orshansky, who based the poverty measure on the cost of a market basket of food that meets the USDA Economy Food Plan (now identified as the Thrifty Food Plan) for a family of three where “the housewife will be a careful shopper, a skillful cook, and a good manager who will prepare all the family’s meals at home” thus establishing the most antiquated government guideline this side of the Philadelphia Zoning Code.

Clearly there are several statistical (and perhaps sexist?) flaws in how this algorithm was derived, leading to an inadequate representation of true poverty which still subsists today.  Based on the “good woman” theorem, $22,050 is the poverty level for a family of four, meaning if one family member earned $11/hr, they would be considered “too rich to be counted.”

Over here in the real world, a recent Pathways PA showed that a family of four in Philadelphia would need $59,501 to survive― or 2.7 times the federal poverty line.  Though this recession found its legs in a faltering real estate market, the current poverty level doesn’t take into account housing costs or debt.  It also doesn’t take into account the cost of living in different regions, which often makes about as much sense as me shopping for the perfect fit in the Big and Tall section.
All of this leads us to ask, “How can we end poverty, if we don’t know how to measure it?”

There is a clear path forward to truly gauge how many people are in poverty.  Factors such as local cost of living, household attributes, and other expenses and debt must be applied to better gauge the economic disadvantage faced by many Americans.  So while Census Bureau may be looking for a good woman, I’d suggest they go find a good calculator first.

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