Two reports released this week do little to dispel the feeling that times are tough for many low and middle income people in America. A report from the U.S. Census shows that the “poorest poor”- those at 50% of the federal poverty level or lower- now make up 1 in 15 Americans. Today’s October jobs report shows a slight increase in employment, but the overall unemployment rate is still a high 9%.

At the same time, questions have been raised about what it means to be poor, and about the proper way to measure poverty. The New York Times notes that traditional poverty measures do not account for the life-saving benefits provided to the poor by the government. For years, the federal poverty threshold has been criticized for over-emphasizing some expenses and not including others (fans of The West Wing may recall this episode, which may be the only instance in the history of American scripted television wherein the merits of the federal poverty measure were debated on prime time TV).

This summer, the Heritage Foundation released a report claiming that because of widespread access to appliances, poverty in America is not nearly so harsh as statistics would lead us to believe. The Center for American Progress countered that report with their own analysis, showing that used appliances cannot be converted into enough income to sustain a family. NLIHC discussed both reports in Memo to Members.

We want to know what you think. Is the current measure of poverty- or for that matter, of unemployment- sufficient to capture reality and provide a basis for policy development? How have unemployment and poverty affected your community? Let’s talk about it in the comments.