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News Tip: Census Bureau’s New Measure of Poverty Misses the Mark, Say Duke Experts

Today the Census Bureau released 2010 data showing that the number of people living in poverty increased to 49 million, according to a new measure of poverty that considers not only income but also other factors including government benefits, taxes and cost of living.

William "Sandy" DarityProfessor of public policy and economics; chair, African American Studies


"There is no exact way of measuring poverty. The measures are contingent on how we conceive of and define poverty. Efforts to develop more refined measures have been dominated by researchers who intentionally want to provide estimates that reduce the magnitude of poverty.

"For the Census Bureau to introduce a new measure that shows little change in the incidence of poverty in the midst of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression is absurd. What we want to capture is the degree of deprivation and economic stress that is being felt by individuals and families -- and certainly that has intensified greatly for the worse during the Great Recession."


Jacob VigdorProfessor of public policy and economics


"Adjusting poverty estimates for local cost-of-living makes sense only if you think that some places are expensive for no reason. In general, that's not the case. California is more expensive than Cleveland because it is in many ways a nicer place to live. Should we think the poor residents of Detroit any less poor because the decimation of the city's industrial economy has made it a very cheap place to live?

"Since high cost-of-living usually brings high 'benefits of living' along with it, a uniform national standard makes more sense than you might think."