Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

March 8, 2014

Fact Check: Americans in 'deep poverty' hits record

By PolitiFact.com

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives recently released a study that critiqued the current mix of federal anti-poverty programs and suggested a new way forward.

The report, titled “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later,” was released by the House Budget Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Ryan was Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 election and is considered a possible presidential contender in 2016.

The report, released March 3, 2014, argues in part that there are too many overlapping and ineffective programs designed to help poor Americans.

At one point, the authors overseen by Ryan tried to give a sense of how far-reaching the problem of poverty remains, despite the investment of countless taxpayer dollars over the course of several decades.

“Over the past three years, ‘deep poverty’ has reached its highest level on record,” the report said. A footnote noted that a household living in “deep poverty” is defined as one that “makes less than 50 percent of the poverty line.” (The report isn’t the first to use the term “deep poverty” - other researchers have as well.)

We wondered whether this was correct, so we turned to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the official source of federal statistics on poverty.

We found a table - “Percent of People by Ratio of Income to Poverty Level” - that breaks down those who earned various percentages of the poverty line. The smallest of those ratios was half the poverty line - the “deep poverty” statistic the report cited.

The federal poverty level is actually a matrix of different dollar amounts. It depends on the size of the family, with larger families having a higher threshold. For one person in 2014, the poverty level is $11,670, and 50 percent of that works out to $5,835. For a family of four, the poverty level is $23,850, and 50 percent of that is $11,925.

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