The development and history of the poverty thresholds

Soc Secur Bull. 1992 Winter;55(4):3-14.


In recent years there has been renewed interest in the United States in the definition and measurement of poverty. In early 1992, the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academy of Sciences began a 30-month study requested by Congress that includes an examination of statistical issues involved in measuring and understanding poverty. Some 2 years earlier, in January 1990, the Administration had approved an initiative on improving the quality of economic statistics. The current poverty measure was one of several dozen statistical series examined as part of that initiative. In April 1990, Urban Institute economist Patricia Ruggles published a book that urged the revision of the poverty line to reflect changes in consumption patterns and changing concepts of what constitutes a minimally adequate standard of living. In July 1990, two private organizations concerned with the poor and the elderly issued a report reviewing current poverty measurement procedures and describing a Gallup poll in which a nationally representative sample of Americans set an average dollar figure for the poverty line that was higher than the current official poverty line. In view of these and other examples, it may be useful to reexamine the development and subsequent history of the current official poverty thresholds.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Female
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Poverty / economics
  • Poverty / history
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data*
  • Public Policy
  • Social Class
  • Social Welfare / economics*
  • Social Welfare / history*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • United States