A recent report that the use of food stamps among the American people has jumped 70 percent over the past four years was disturbing, to say the least.
But now, a comprehensive federal review of poverty in the United States suggests that millions more Americans are living in poverty than an estimate from just a couple of months ago indicated.
In September, the federal government released the official poverty rate for 2010: 15.1 percent.
That represented a shocking 46.2 million Americans who were living below the poverty line of about $22,300 in annual income for a family of four.
Probably no one was pleased by the thought that more than 46 million people in our nation of 312 million were facing such serious financial troubles.
But the real extent of want in the United States may be worse than even that painful figure suggests.
A new Census Bureau calculation of poverty finds that in fact, approximately 49.1 million -- not "merely" 46.2 million -- Americans are in poverty.
That record-high number comes not to the previously estimated 15.1 percent but to 16 percent of our people.
Why the difference?
The new measure gives more weight to costs such as housing, while reducing the weight given to food -- because Americans spend proportionately less of their income these days on food compared with what was spent on food 50 years ago, when the traditional poverty formula was put in place.
The revised formula also considers big differences in the cost of living from one region of the country to another.
Lower costs of living in the Midwest, for instance, helped that region come out better than others under the new calculation.
The poverty rate among children actually dropped because the new formula considers the effect of government assistance such as food stamps.
Despite a few bright spots, though, the overwhelming thrust of the new calculation is that more Americans are enduring harsh economic conditions.
We are grateful that in the United States, "poverty" does not equate to the starvation and horrendous levels of deprivation that are tragically common in Third World countries. But we are troubled that current big-government policies are holding back the job creation necessary to lift people out of poverty.