Why 3X?

The Gomez Family was really struggling. Jaime Gomez had a good paying job at a local auto repair shop, and Bonita was an aide in a nursing home. They had two children and were taking care of Bonita’s mother. They never seemed to have enough money to pay for the necessities. Their church helped them out, but there were many other souls in the church that needed helped as well.

Jaime and Bonita tried to see if they could find some assistance from federal/state programs, but they didn’t meet the federal poverty guidelines to qualify. They tracked their expenditures for a month to show a friend who worked as a family financial counselor, but he saw no places where their spending was excessive. In fact, she was amazed that they were even surviving.

“Let me help you understand the issue you are facing”, explained Maria Sanchez, the financial counselor. “When the federal government started its assistance to families who were struggling, they needed to determine the income level to assess whether a family was living in poverty. They did this by determining what a specific size family would need to spend on food in a year. Then they multiplied this amount by 3 to determine the poverty income level. The multiplier of 3 was used because at the time (mid 1960’s), food typically was one-third of a family’s expenditures.

Since the inception of the 3x multiplier, family budgets have changed. For example, housing and healthcare costs are much larger as a percentage of the budget now than they were. But the multiplier of 3x remains. The nation’s leadership has not wanted to change the 3x multiplier because that would show a greater percentage of our citizens living in poverty. And that would be an embarrassment.

The solution has been to help people qualify for support by changing the threshold. For example, families may qualify for support if their annual income is below 130% of the poverty level. While this adjustment expands the number of people who qualify for some programs, the percentage (e.g. 130%) is a political decision, not an economic one. It’s not hard to imagine that the percentage that is adopted through political negotiations is rarely the actual figure to meet basic family needs.

Just imagine why we don’t trust the “science” of such issues as what constitutes poverty? Once a number or methodology is set, the rationale for the number or methodology seems to recede and political matters dominate. Why is that? Whether a family is living in poverty should not be a political decision.

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“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.”
– Nelson Mandela

(1)Ground Truth is what is actually happening in society rather than what is being said is happening.

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