Petition Closed
Petitioning President of the United States

Tell President Obama to Update the Unrealistic Federal Poverty Line


The federal poverty line has not been updated for almost 50 years. As a result, low-income Americans who need social services but fall slightly above the current line are not factored into federal poverty statistics, making it difficult to justify poverty alleviation programs to the voting public.

The only politician with jurisdiction to update the poverty line is the President. For half a century, our country's leaders have dragged their feet; the time to act is now. Ask President Obama to update the federal poverty line immediately.

Current guidelines set the poverty line at $22,050 for a family of four. This extraordinarily low figure doesn't take into account the costs of healthcare, transportation, clothing, childcare, or even housing. Instead, it relies solely on an antiquated food budget from 1964 (adjusted for inflation) to determine an average household's cost of living, even though food costs make up a much smaller percentage of living expenses now than they did in the 1960s.

The National Academy of Sciences agrees: it's time for a change. In a nearly 500-page report, they suggest a new, statistically defensible poverty measure that is "acceptable and understandable to the public" and "feasible to implement," describing in detail the many changes that need to be made.

We know how to improve the poverty line, and we have the resources to do it. The time for deliberation and stalling is over.

An updated poverty line will force American politicians to acknowledge that poverty can't be swept under the rug. Demand that President Obama update the poverty line in accordance with the National Academy of Science's suggestions.

Photo credit: jurvetson

Letter to
President of the United States
The federal poverty line is desperately out of date, and only you have the jurisdiction to change it.

The "poverty thresholds" used to determine the federal poverty line have remained virtually unchanged since their creation in 1963-64. They rely on an an antiquated food budget to estimate how much a given family spends on meals and then multiply this number by 3. If a family earns less than that amount, they're considered "poor." This made sense in the early 1960s, as most families spent about a third of their money on food. Now, however, experts estimate that an average family only spends 12% of its income on groceries, needing the rest for housing, transportation, health insurance, clothing, and other necessities, none of which are factored into the current poverty thresholds.

In the most recent comprehensive review of the federal poverty line, The National Academy of Sciences was not impressed, noting numerous weaknesses in the measure that, over the years, "have become more apparent and consequential because of far-reaching changes in the U.S. society and economy and in government policies." Such problems range from not factoring in childcare costs when multiple parents work outside the home to not acknowledging cost of living variations throughout the country.

Without an up-to-date measure of American poverty, politicians cannot justify poverty alleviation programs to their constituents, and social services are left with an unrealistic understanding of which people require their assistance.

Now is the time to update the federal poverty line. The National Academy of Sciences has already developed a nearly 500-page report outlining the exact steps needed to move forward effectively. All you have to do is set the pieces in motion.

Please update the federal poverty line immediately.