by Max Brantley
The New York Times reports that the formula used to count the number in poverty is to be reworked and it will make the poverty count in the U.S. look not quite so dire, comparatively. Big change: Taking into account government support and tax credits that help the poorest people — food stamps and the earned income tax credit.
Conservatives will bray that things aren't so bad as they look. Even as they work to reduce the food stamp program, put higher income taxes on the bottom end of the scale, make health care programs more expensive and less useful and otherwise rip the social safety net asunder.
But remember the specific, such as this example of someone adjudged by current standards to live in poverty who'll be lifted out of that classification by the new measure that counts her government benefits. A lucky duck she isn't:
In Charlotte, Angelique Melton was among the beneficiaries. A divorced mother of two, Ms. Melton, 42, had worked her way up to a $39,000 a year position at a construction management firm. But as building halted in 2009, Ms. Melton lost her job.
Struggling to pay the rent and keep the family adequately fed, she took the only job she could find: a part-time position at Wal-Mart that paid less than half her former salary. With an annual income of about $7,500 — well below the poverty line of $17,400 for a family of three — Ms. Melton was officially poor.
Unofficially she was not.
After trying to stretch her shrunken income, Ms. Melton signed up for $3,600 a year in food stamps and received $1,800 in nutritional supplements from the Women, Infants and Children program. And her small salary qualified her for large tax credits, which arrive in the form of an annual check — in her case for about $4,000.
Along with housing aid, those subsidies gave her an annual income of nearly $18,800 — no one’s idea of rich, but by the new count not poor.
“They help you, my God,” Ms. Melton said. “I would not have made it otherwise.”
If Republicans have their way, such deadbeats will be dealt with. 20 percent flat tax, one says. 9 percent sales tax says another. Cuts in food stamps say many in the Republican delegation. And so on. Gotta pay for tax cuts for the job creators somehow.