The outdated way we measure poverty hurts those in need

Published in the Seattle Times Dec. 3, 2017

This fall the U.S. Census Bureau brought good news when it informed us that the nation’s poverty rate had fallen from 13.2 to 12.7 percent.

But now more than ever, we should be suspicious of this news.

To calculate a poverty rate requires first setting the threshold income below which someone is poor. The U.S.’s threshold, three times the cost of a minimum food diet, is more than 60-years-old and was set when food was families’ most costly expense. No wonder a family of four today with $25,000 in income is not officially poor: Our threshold doesn’t match the reality facing low-income households.
Next comes the challenge of defining income. As conservatives point out, we underestimate income by omitting the value of many cash and noncash government benefits. This practice dates to a time long past when government expenditures on tax credits, food stamps and housing subsidies weren’t that significant.

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Yes to universal health care, and Switzerland

Published September 27, 2017 in The Hill

Linda Gorman, director of the Independence Institute’s Health Care Policy Center, recently argued on these pages for a repeal of ObamaCare. Gorman claims that the movement toward a more European-style health care system, such as Obamacare steers us toward, leads us in the wrong direction.  For support, she compares our health care system with Switzerland’s.

I’ll address that comparison toward the end of this article.  Before getting there, though, I want to engage Gorman’s broader argument, both because it draws for support on my research comparing health care financing in the US with other countries, and because it misses basic health care economics.

To tackle the essence of Gorman’s argument that Americans are better off with a health care system leaving some uninsured, let’s step back from the specifics of Switzerland’s health care system.  Let’s instead examine the “European (or Asian)” model of health care.  Continue reading

Ballot drop boxes: Will convenience get you to vote?

Published in the Seattle Times, July 18, 2017

Last year, King County sought to improve turnout by increasing the number of its drop boxes from 10 to 43. In the words of King County’s Director of Elections Julie Wise, the purpose was to “make it as easy as possible to exercise the right to vote.”

Interest in the use of drop boxes as alternatives to the U.S. Postal Service peaked last month when Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill requiring counties to install 250 to 275 additional boxes throughout the state.

 Drop boxes are preferred by some voters, and this new law will make them more popular still. In King County, one-fourth of all voters used a drop box before last summer’s expansion; after it, more than half did. Under our state’s new law, King County will now double the number of drop- Continue reading