Every year, the Census Bureau uses a 40-year-old formula to determine how many poor people there are in America, a method that many experts think was outdated years ago.
The Census Bureau acknowledges the issue by also announcing alternative poverty rates based on different measurements of income and poverty. This approach has fueled an academic and political debate, but has yet to produce policy changes.
In August, the bureau announced that 12.7 percent of Americans lived in poverty in 2004, making it the official poverty rate. Last week, the bureau said the rate might be as high as 19.4 percent, or as low as 8.3 percent, depending on how income and basic living costs were defined.
One outside analyst said he could cut the poverty rate in half using census data and a pocket calculator. But his exercise would change only the definition of poverty. It wouldn't make anyone richer.
"I know virtually no one who thinks the current poverty line is an accurate measure of poverty," said Rebecca Blank, co-director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan.