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Pressman and Scott on measuring poverty

Mark D. White

Steve Pressman and Robert Scott of Monmouth University pubished an interested op-ed titled "Poverty: Numbers Alone Don't Tell the Real Story" in The Star-Ledger (New Jersey) this morning. Steve is also the chief financial officer of the Eastern Economic Association, co-editor of the Review of Political Economy, and a great person to sit next to on a long plane trip from San Francisco to Newark, NJ. (I have never flown with Robert, but I'm sure he is a raconteur of distinction as well.)

The title is somewhat misleading (I'm guessing the paper's editors changed it)--the article is pressing (pun intended) for better numbers or calulation of poverty levels, in particular to include the interest on household (non-mortgage) debt:

Interest payments for past debt leave less money to purchase goods now. In many cases, such payments mean that a family can no longer buy the necessities needed to survive during the year. The family is poor; but because the government ignores interest payments on past debt, they do not count these families as poor. We undercount the number of poor Americans.

For a more in-depth look at these issues, see Steve and Robert's papers titled "Who Are the Debt Poor?" in Journal of Economic Issues, 43/2 (2009), 423-432, and "Consumer Debt and the Measurement of Poverty and Inequality in the US," Review of Social Economy, 67/2, 127-148.


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