This past week, media outlets have been abuzz, heralding the news that poverty levels in the United States are higher than previously thought. But the numbers are misleading.

The Census Bureau reported last week that, according to its new “supplemental poverty measure,” 49.7 million Americans are in poverty. This figure is higher than 46.2 million reported by the Census back in September using the traditional poverty measure.

This “supplemental poverty measure”—which has been promoted by the Obama Administration—is essentially a relative measure of poverty. As The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and I explain in this 2011 National Review Online piece, the measure is inherently flawed:

The new measure…distorts the picture of poverty by placing income thresholds on an automatic elevator that climbs as overall income rises.

Thus, by this measure, even if the income of all Americans doubled immediately, poverty would not decrease, because the income thresholds would also double. Only if the incomes of the poor rise more quickly than those of the rest of the population would poverty decrease.… It will ensure that “poverty” can’t be alleviated except by extreme income leveling. The new measure is designed to provide a never-ending argument for the Left to insist that we must continue to “spread the wealth.”

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