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The Misleading Way We Count the Poor

Each September the Census Bureau releases its official calculation of the national poverty rate, intended to reflect the extent of economic hardship in the United States. Despite advances in available data and methodological techniques, the mechanics of the official poverty measure have not been significantly altered for four decades. The once useful metric has, unfortunately, not worn well. Today the official poverty measure provides an incomplete and inaccurate representation of the poor. Perhaps most troubling is that it misses important elements of poverty and thus provides a less valuable vantage for policymakers seeking to craft effective policy interventions.

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