Ok, yes, maybe.
This was the Washington Post headline: “Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty“. It hasn’t made the NZ media, but some of you probably read about the rest of the world occasionally and might have seen it.
The original source, a report from the Southern Education Foundation, is careful not to use the word “poverty”. They say 51% of public school students are low-income, defined as receiving free or subsidised school meals. There’s a standard US government definition of poverty, used in defining eligibility for social programs, and by that definition 51% of public school students come from households with income less than 1.85 times the threshold for poverty. The report also says what proportion get free school meals, for which the threshold is 1.35 times the poverty line, and it’s 44%.
They don’t give the proportion under the official poverty line. If the exact figure mattered for this post I could probably work it out from the American Community Survey, but since only about 10% of US kids are in private schools after kindergarten and before college, it’s going to be in the same ballpark as the proportion for all children — 22%. It’s hard to see it being more than 30%.
On the other hand, the US has an unusual official definition of poverty. In most Western countries, the poverty line is a set fraction (often 60%) of the median household income (adjusted somehow for household size). The US uses the price of a fixed set of foodstuffs and an estimate of what fraction of income goes on food, defined in 1963-4 and then updated using the CPI (actually, that’s what the Census Bureau uses, the rest of the government uses a simplified version of the same thing). If you defined poverty by 60% of median household income, you’d come pretty close to the subsidized-meals threshold. That is, defining poverty the way most other Western countries do, the headline is close to being correct.
On the other other hand, the Washington Post is a US newspaper. If you’re writing for the Post and you think it’s unreasonable to define ‘poverty’ to exclude a US family of three with an income (including cash benefits) of $20,000, I have some sympathy for your position. I still think you need to say your definition is different from the official one and wasn’t used by your source.