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The current official poverty measure was developed in the mid 1960s by Mollie Orshansky, a staff economist at the Social Security Administration. Poverty thresholds were derived from the cost of a minimum food diet multiplied by three to account for other family expenses.

For additional information on the history of the poverty measure, refer to the pages below.

The Measure of Poverty

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Authority Behind the Official Poverty Measure

The official measure of poverty was established by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in Statistical Policy Directive 14 and is designed to be used by federal agencies in their statistical work.

Official poverty data come from the Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC), formerly called the Annual Demographic Supplement or simply the "March Supplement."

Government aid programs do not have to use the official poverty measure as eligibility criteria. Each aid program may define eligibility differently. Many government aid programs use a different poverty measure, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) poverty guidelines, or variants thereof.

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