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Mollie Orshansky: Her Career, Achievements, and Publications

Mollie Orshansky in 1967.

Mollie Orshansky in 1967
Social Security Administration History Archives
[Full sized image]



Mollie Orshansky: Author of the Poverty Thresholds,”Amstat News, Issue #375, September 2008, pp. 15-18 [PDF - 4 pages]

…While Orshansky’s development of the poverty thresholds was a major milestone in both social policy history and statistical history, it grew out of ordinary work activities— an ‘answer for the record’ for a congressional hearing and an in-house research project….”

Remembering Mollie Orshansky— The Developer of the Poverty Thresholds,”Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 3, December 2008, pp. 79-83 [PDF - 5 pages]

In December 2006, Mollie Orshansky, known to many as Ms. Poverty, died at age 91 after a long government career during which she did pioneering research on poverty and the measurement of income inadequacy….”

In-Depth Research— Social Security Pioneers: Mollie Orshansky (web page on Social Security History web site)

…In 1976 Miss Orshansky received the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in recognition for her leadership in creating the first nationally accepted measures of income adequacy and applying them to public policy….”

Deborah A. Stone, Making the Poor Count,”The American Prospect, No. 17, Spring 1994, pp. 84-88

…In ‘Counting the Poor,’ Orshansky put a day’s food allowance into the figurative housewife’s pocket and asked readers to share her plight: ‘The poverty line would allow a housewife with a husband and two kids about 70 cents a day per person for food…. …I asked Orshansky if she had always wanted to do something for children or against poverty. But my question came from a different generation and a different economic experience. ‘I never thought of what I wanted to be…. You didn’t plan to be anything— you planned to get a job.’”

Remarks on Mollie Orshansky’s Life, Career, and Achievements” (delivered at a conference in August 2008) [PDF - 8 pages]

…Mollie’s achievements were based not on academic prominence or high official position but on her knowledge and the skill with which she used it. Her knowledge of poverty was not only technical and academic but also experiential; she knew first-hand what it was like to grow up poor….”

Some Stories About Mollie Orshansky” (remarks presented at a conference in November 2007) [ PDF - 8 pages]

…Mollie remembered going with her mother to stand in relief lines to get surplus food. As she grew up, she became quite familiar with the experience of having to forgo one small purchase in order to have the money for something else. She later summed up this aspect of her early life by saying, ‘If I write about the poor, I don’t need a good imagination— I have a good memory.’…



Of the contributions to American public policy that Orshansky made during her career, the greatest by far was her Development of the Poverty Thresholds. This provides links to long and short versions of an article on Orshansky’s development of the poverty thresholds and their subsequent history as the official U.S. poverty measure.


Selected Articles and Papers by Mollie Orshansky About the Poverty Thresholds and the Poverty Population (bibliography)

This page lists eight articles and papers that Orshansky wrote, mostly during the 1960s and 1970s.

A Chronological Bibliography of Mollie Orshansky’s Publications(Including Congressional Testimony)

This document lists all of Orshansky’s known publications and testimony, both on poverty and on other subjects, from 1947 to 1990. It includes the eight selected articles and papers referenced above.