Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mollie Orshansky, Statistician, Dies at 91

From The New York Times:
Miss Orshansky, whose parents had known poverty in Ukraine, worked for the Social Security Administration from 1958 until she retired in 1982. She was “one of a respected but mostly invisible cadre of women research professionals based at S.S.A. and other government agencies during the postwar years,” the historian Alice O’Connor wrote in “Poverty Knowledge,” a 2001 history of poverty research.

“These women,” Ms. O’Connor wrote, “found job opportunities in federal government and other ‘applied’ endeavors when university jobs were largely closed off to them, although within government they were often clustered in research bureaus focusing on such traditional ‘women’s’ concerns as social welfare, female labor force participation, families and children, and home economics. That experience as a career government statistician, a far cry from systems analysis, was what gave Orshansky the wholly unexpected designation as author of the government’s official poverty line.”
In 1995, a panel of the National Academy of Sciences urged several changes in calculating poverty, but no major changes have occurred, in part because they would have the politically unpopular effect of increasing the poverty rate, probably by a couple of percentage points, which would require an expansion of benefits.

Miss Orshansky, a lifelong liberal Democrat, expressed sympathy with the criticisms of the poverty line. “The best that can be said of the measure,” she once wrote, “is that at a time when it seemed useful, it was there.”

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