Poverty Guidelines Debated as Barometer of Poor

By Boyd, Danny M. | THE JOURNAL RECORD, January 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

Poverty Guidelines Debated as Barometer of Poor


Boyd, Danny M., THE JOURNAL RECORD


TULSA -- Oklahoma continues to have a greater percentage of poor people than the nation, but the state's count may be overstated.

The same income guidelines to determine the poverty rates for different family sizes apply nationally. But the cost of living in Oklahoma is lower than other states, said Kenneth Kickham, senior research with Oklahoma Department Human Services.

That could inflate the poverty rate in Oklahoma and other states with lower costs of living.

A family of four earning less than $17,761 in 2000 was considered impoverished.

"We need to take a serious look at how poverty is measured and that would tell us how far off we are and in which direction,'' Kickham said.

Poverty income guidelines are issued each year in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services and are used by administrators to determine financial eligibility for a variety of federal programs.

In 2000, 14 percent of Oklahoma residents lived in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. Nationally, about 11.3 percent of Americans were considered below the poverty level.

Recently released 1998 midrange estimates from the Census Bureau with county-specific information showed about 16 percent of Oklahomans lived in poverty, compared with 12.9 percent of all Americans.

The poor may be better off than income guidelines suggest because the value of government benefits such as food stamps, housing assistance and school lunch subsidies are usually not counted as income, a Washington policy analyst said.

"What that means is that, literally, if the government decided to put a poor person up in a mansion and give them caviar every day, they would still be listed as poor," said Edward Hudgins, director of regulatory studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank. …

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