Statistics matter. Take the newly popularized statistic, the “underemployment rate,” that the media began to report during the Great Recession. This rate adds part-time workers who can’t find the full-time work they want and people who have given up looking for work altogether to the officially unemployed. In April the underemployment rate reached 17%, indicating that workers are feeling the economic downturn more severely than suggested by the 9.9% official unemployment rate. The official poverty line similarly misses the mark in measuring economic suffering in the United States. Poverty experts have long recognized that the poverty income threshold published by the Census Bureau marks an excessively severe level of economic deprivation. But the problem isn’t just that the poverty line is too low. Anyone can multiply the poverty line by two and use that to define poverty; that’s how eligibility for subsidy programs like reduced-price school lunches is determined. The official poverty line, however, actually represents a living standard that deteriorates year after year.