Even before there were poverty measures for descriptive purposes, there were attempts to define what constitutes a reasonable minimum income level to not be considered poor in specific settings for the purposes of policymaking. Indeed, the basic idea of such a “poverty line” is one of the oldest and most well-known concepts found in applied economics. The economic interpretation of a poverty line is as the cost of attaining a given level of economic welfare or “standard of living” in different places or different dates. The minimum level of economic welfare needed to not be considered “poor” can be determined either objectively—meaning that it is set by an observer, based on data—or subjectively, meaning that it is based on what people themselves think about what constitutes poverty in the society in question. The chapter studies both approaches.
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