Measuring Poverty in the U.S.


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According to official government statistics, the poverty rate in the U.S. is 14.5% (2013). But what exactly does that mean – for example, how low does your income have to be in order to be considered ‘poor’? A PowerPoint presentation and a class exercise teach students how poverty is measured in the United States and some current debates about the adequacy of this method of measurement. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of poverty statistics that are reported by the government, and will think critically about this important policy issues. The in-class group exercise helps students process and develop their own policy positions and sets the stage for further class discussions about poverty and inequality in the U.S.


Resource Type(s):
Class Activity, Lecture, PowerPoint 
Susan Vorsanger, Mount Saint Mary College 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Public Policy 
Class Level:
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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This PowerPoint presentation (with lecture notes included) and class exercise could be used at any course level, and is suitable for Intro to Sociology, Social Problems, or a course on inequality. It requires one class session for the lecture with PowerPoint, and at least ½ of another class session...

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Students will learn how poverty is measured in the U.S.
Assessment 1:
Group exercise
Goal 2:
Students will understand current debates about how poverty should be measured, and will develop their own policy positions on this issue.
Assessment 2:
Exam questions
Goal 3:
Students will understand the difference between absolute and relative measures of poverty.

Files for Download:

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group project measuring poverty.docx
measuring poverty presentation.pptx
usage notes measuring poverty.docx