July 17, 2008

Waiting With Zain: Clients Sharing Stories

Mr. T and Me!

I spoke with some clients on Tuesday about New York City’s new formula for calculating the poverty line. On Monday, Mayor Bloomberg announced the use of a new algorithm that would incorporate local costs such as the costs of food, clothing, housing and utilities, while accounting for tax credits and subsidies received from the government. This new plan, influenced by widespread cost of living differences, attempts to counter them by regionalizing the standard for poverty.

Our clients were very perceptive to this new plan. Mr. T told me that the new measure is a necessary and welcomed change because the old measure is outdated. He maintained, “The new [economic] conditions and higher costs of living we’re facing aren’t represented in the old measurement.” By incorporating specific local costs, Mayor Bloomberg’s plan attempts to do just this - create a more accurate representation of the economic hardships that low-income residents are facing. The people facing these hardships are in agreement: all the clients I spoke with said they’d like to see this new measurement instituted not only in DC, but throughout the nation.

The new poverty measurement defined almost one-fourth of New Yorkers as living under the poverty line. If the national number of impoverished citizens increases as much as the number in New York did (+4%), the new method will have defined an extra 12 million citizens living under the poverty line. Mr. T thinks this increased number will put pressure on the government to respond. He declared,

The economy is in trouble and the people it supports are in trouble, but they [the government] are still spending trillions of dollars on the war. They need to spend that money helping people here at home that need it.

Mr. T’s observation raises a critical question: where will the government get the money to assist this increased number? Trillion dollar deficits aren’t exactly conducive to social service program expansion. The current level of government assistance is hardly enough for those currently getting help. The most disconcerting thing would be to see an increase in poverty without an increase in assistance.

However, the first step in defining how much assistance to give is understanding how many people need it. When announcing the new plan, Mayor Bloomberg was to have said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This new plan is indeed a far more accurate measure of poverty; now we’ll just have to wait and see how it will be managed.

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