by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A society should be judged—in important part—on the basis of how it treats its poorest members. It is thus essential that we measure poverty accurately and transparently. That is especially the case when how we measure poverty has direct implications for how government assistance is provided to individuals and allocated across geographic areas.
Unfortunately we have gone astray, due to the continued elevation of the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM cloaks in complexity value judgments about where to set the poverty line, doing nothing to provide more accurate information about poverty but instead serving to mislead the public that value judgments about how much is “enough” can be determined by science. If the SPM were elevated to the “nation’s headline poverty statistic,” the key recommendation of a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine consensus report, and if the SPM were unilaterally declared the official poverty measure by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), there would be profound effects on government programs. Government spending would rise by more than $124 billion over the next decade, and federal aid would be reallocated from low-income states to high-income states. These policy changes would automatically take effect through the simple action of the OMB Director updating a statistical policy directive to make the SPM the official poverty measure, a move that has now been given scientific cover by the National Academies and one that requires no Congressional input.
Congress should not allow a presidential administration to overrule its decisions over how todetermine eligibility for government programs and how to allocate aid across geographic areas. …
… Congress should protect its authority over government programs, defend our immensely valuable statistical agencies from involvement in political decisions, and promote accurate and transparent poverty statistics.