You’ve no doubt heard the news that millions of American live in extreme poverty, in conditions akin to those in the world’s poorest countries. But is it true?

In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes Bruce Meyer to explore this claim. Meyer suggests that a lot of statistical flaws are to be found in the underlying studies. He is even part of team trying to create a better measure of US poverty, the Comprehensive Income Dataset Project. But before we get to that, let’s hear what you thought about other elements of this conversation. Share your thoughts with our online community in the comments, or use the prompts below to start your own conversation offline.



1- How is extreme poverty typically defined, and what are the main issues with this calculation, according to Meyer? Do you think transfer payments should be included as a measure of income in calculating poverty levels? Why or why not?


2- Roberts and Meyer spend a good bit of time discussing consumption versus income. When is each measure appropriate when considering poverty? How does using one measure over another influence the way we see poverty in America? Which do you think is a better measure, and why?


3- Meyers says he’s especially interested in how to measure what the government has done to reduce poverty over time. What does he think is missing here, and how might the CID project resolve some of these questions? Given his acknowledgment of positive effects, why doesn’t Meyer think a Universal Basic Income is a good idea ? To what extent do you agree?


4- What might allow for the United States “to have a system that encourages people to find meaningful things to do,” as Meyer would like? Put another way, as Roberts insists, “the system” works well for many people, but how ought we to help those for whom it doesn’t work?


5- Are economists too reluctant to report “good news” as opposed to bad? If so, what do you think accounts for this?