How To Tell If You're Poor

Right in the heart of the Xmas-to-New Year's News Dead Zone, Mayor Bloomberg announced a sweeping change in the way New York City will measure poverty. The national standard remains tied, more or less, to the price of milk. Income and "annual cost of buying basic groceries" have determined who is poor in the US for four decades. Bloomberg would like to add other, more realistic standards—rent, utilities, child care—while taking into account "the value of financial assistance received, like housing vouchers or food stamps." Mike hopes this more exact method of defining who is the worst off compared to him will spread to the rest of the nation, and improve distribution of federal, state, and local aid. Also it will probably mean that there are a lot more poor people in New York than previously counted. Maybe you're one of them!

Some conservative critics are not happy with new standards for measuring poverty, as they could mean thousands more poor people begging them for nickels as they try to navigate the Bowery in their carriages, and beating these ragamuffin throngs back with the horsewhip may attract the negative attention of the local constabulary. But it is foolish not to count the myriad inflated cost of living expenses New York requires when figuring out which of its denizens are actually deserving of our limited supply of compassion and federal funds.

Meanwhile, those cross-pond small-L liberals at The Economist have decided on their very own standard for measuring inequality: consumption. This measure has the handy quality of making the inequality picture look really not so bad, all things (or rather, some politically motivated things) considered. Because in America, even the poor people have refrigerators. And as income inequality has risen, "consumption inequality has barely budged for several decades," according to some study. If we all have cars and TVs and 3 a.m. Chinese food, how unequal can our society even be! "A widescreen plasma television is lovely, but you do not need one to laugh at 'Shrek'." Because dead-eyed idiocy recognizes no class divide.

SO: either you're way poorer than previously thought, because your rent is ridiculous and your income is laughable, or you're perfectly well off you big baby because jeez, you have a laptop and home internet access and a cell phone and you're telling us you're impoverished?

Bloomberg Seeks New Way to Decide Who Is Poor [NYT]
Seeking a Better Measure of Inequality [WSJ]
The New (Improved) Gilded Age [Economist]