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Monday, January 19, 2015

Poverty and Lunch

Lyndsey Layton reports at The Washington Post:
For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation. 
The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum notes that the report is right, but the headline --  "Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty" -- is wrong.  The qualification for reduced-price lunches is 185% of the poverty line.
But it's more complicated than that! The 51 percent number is attention grabbing because it's a majority, but perhaps the more important number is that 44 percent qualify for free lunches. For a family of four, that's $31,000, just barely over the poverty line. If you got rid of the word "majority," it would phrase "near poverty." And frankly, I wouldn't be bothered much if you just called it poverty, even if that's not quite the official federal government definition
At Forbes, Tim Worstall writes:
Drum links to this file to show the eligibility levels for the discount and free school lunches. But there’s also this very interesting filehere (if that doesn’t work, search for this: “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013″). And there we see that median household income for the US is around $51k.The poverty line for a family of four is $24k. So, as near as dang it we’ve got the poverty line for that size of family at 50% of the median household income. And low income is 185% of the poverty line. Meaning that our definition of low income is now becoming quite close to the median income for the whole country.
No, it is still lower than that median income, this is true. But note the mathematical property of a median: by very definition we expect 50% of all households to have incomes below that median.