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The SSRC Library allows visitors to access materials related to self-sufficiency programs, practice and research. Visitors can view common search terms, conduct a keyword search or create a custom search using any combination of the filters at the left side of this page. To conduct a keyword search, type a term or combination of terms into the search box below, select whether you want to search the exact phrase or the words in any order, and click on the blue button to the right of the search box to view relevant results.

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  • Individual Author: Wheaton, Laura; Tashi, Jamyang
    Reference Type: Report
    Year: 2010

    Many agree that the official measure of poverty in the United States is flawed. Experts have recommended an alternative measure of poverty that includes all family resources net of taxes and nondiscretionary expenses and updates the thresholds to reflect current spending patterns. This fact sheet describes the official poverty measure and an alternative measure developed by the National Academy of Sciences, and uses data from the 2006 American Community Survey to estimate the extent of poverty in Minnesota under the official and alternative measure. (author abstract)

    Many agree that the official measure of poverty in the United States is flawed. Experts have recommended an alternative measure of poverty that includes all family resources net of taxes and nondiscretionary expenses and updates the thresholds to reflect current spending patterns. This fact sheet describes the official poverty measure and an alternative measure developed by the National Academy of Sciences, and uses data from the 2006 American Community Survey to estimate the extent of poverty in Minnesota under the official and alternative measure. (author abstract)

  • Individual Author: United States Census Bureau
    Reference Type: Stakeholder Resource
    Year: 2014

    President Johnson’s 1964 declaration of his “War on Poverty” generated a new interest in measuring just how many people were in poverty and how those numbers changed from year to year. The next year the Office of Economic Opportunity adopted a working definition of poverty based on a methodology for counting the poor that had been proposed by Mollie Orshansky, an analyst at the Social Security Administration. In 1967, the Census Bureau published its first set of poverty estimates.

    Two years later, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memorandum that established the nation’s “official” poverty measure and changed the Census Bureau with responsibility for providing annual poverty estimates. Over the past fifty years, there have been numerous efforts to improve the official poverty measure, including an Interagency Poverty Studies Task Force in the 1970s and a National Academy of Science’s expert panel in the 1990s. These efforts triggered research by economists at the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics resulting in the November 2011 publication of...

    President Johnson’s 1964 declaration of his “War on Poverty” generated a new interest in measuring just how many people were in poverty and how those numbers changed from year to year. The next year the Office of Economic Opportunity adopted a working definition of poverty based on a methodology for counting the poor that had been proposed by Mollie Orshansky, an analyst at the Social Security Administration. In 1967, the Census Bureau published its first set of poverty estimates.

    Two years later, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memorandum that established the nation’s “official” poverty measure and changed the Census Bureau with responsibility for providing annual poverty estimates. Over the past fifty years, there have been numerous efforts to improve the official poverty measure, including an Interagency Poverty Studies Task Force in the 1970s and a National Academy of Science’s expert panel in the 1990s. These efforts triggered research by economists at the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics resulting in the November 2011 publication of poverty estimates using a new “Supplemental Poverty Measure.” For the past three years, the Census Bureau has published two sets of national poverty estimates, one using the official method and one using the Supplemental Poverty Measure. (author abstract)

  • Individual Author: Cooper, P. Mae; Teague, Shawn
    Reference Type: SSRC Products
    Year: 2016

    Posted by P. Mae Cooper* & Shawn Teague, Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse Staff

    All poverty research, policy, and practice is built on the decision of who to count as poor or in need. In actuality, there are multiple dimensions of need, and people generally fall on a spectrum of poverty, not into categories. For many practical purposes, however, a decision must be made as to who to categorize as poor, and simple metrics are critical in making that decision.

    It can be easy to take poverty measurement for granted. Most researchers and practitioners use the Federal Poverty Line, or some multiple of the line, as a simple short-hand for poverty. Given how pervasive the use of this measure is, it can seem like the question of who to count as poor is essentially settled. But, in many ways, the Federal Poverty Line was set to be a convenient shorthand--to use with...

    Posted by P. Mae Cooper* & Shawn Teague, Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse Staff

    All poverty research, policy, and practice is built on the decision of who to count as poor or in need. In actuality, there are multiple dimensions of need, and people generally fall on a spectrum of poverty, not into categories. For many practical purposes, however, a decision must be made as to who to categorize as poor, and simple metrics are critical in making that decision.

    It can be easy to take poverty measurement for granted. Most researchers and practitioners use the Federal Poverty Line, or some multiple of the line, as a simple short-hand for poverty. Given how pervasive the use of this measure is, it can seem like the question of who to count as poor is essentially settled. But, in many ways, the Federal Poverty Line was set to be a convenient shorthand--to use with limited data—yet it has not changed, even while the way Americans live has transformed dramatically.

    Defining who is poor is a complex undertaking, requiring multiple decisions. It generally involves defining four things: what people have, what people need, when to include them, and who to include. Sometimes, the measure also includes an implicit or explicit “why” people are in need.

    For instance, the Official Poverty Measure (OPM) measures what people have with their pre-tax income and their cash benefits. It sets what they need as three times the cost of a “bare-bones” diet, adjusted for inflation. The OPM is based on income in the past year, and is measured at the family level: a person and their spouse, as well as any children that are related to them. While there is no explicit “why” criteria, the use of pre-tax income to measure resources implicitly excludes those who are needy because of money mismanagement, high taxes, or large expenses such as medical or rental costs.

    Over the years, there have been many approximations that attempt to ‘pin down’ a definition of poverty. The measurements vary in precision and utility – often more precise measurements rely on data that are hard to collect or rarely available. Others are informative for a particular purpose, but not useful as a broad measure of need.

    Aside from the OPM, the U.S. Census Bureau also produces estimates for a Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). This measure includes non-cash benefits and taxes in its measurement of resources, sets need thresholds based on a wider variety of basic costs, includes unmarried partners in its definition of family, and varies by region to reflect differences in cost-of-living. Other common poverty measures are based on spending, assets, or specific hardships rather than income; examine how poverty varies over time; set need relative to some average; or combine a number of different measures.

    Whatever the measure, both research and practice could be improved with careful consideration of the definitions that we choose to use.  

    Learn More about Poverty Measurement from the SSRC:

    The SSRC Library contains numerous evaluation reports and stakeholder resources on measuring poverty, including:

    For more resources, check out the SSRC Library and subscribe to SSRC or follow us on Twitter to receive updates about upcoming events, new library materials on self-sufficiency topics of interest to you and more.

    *Mae Cooper prepared this SSRC Note while she was a Research Analyst at Child Trends and working as a part of the SSRC team.

  • Individual Author: Smeeding, Timothy M.
    Reference Type: Report
    Year: 2014

    The fundamental concept of poverty concerns itself with having too few resources or capabilities to participate fully in a society. Social scientists need to first establish the breadth and depth of the social phenomenon called "poverty" before they can meaningfully analyze it and explore its ultimate causes and remedies. In this chapter, we examine the complexities and idiosyncrasies of poverty measurement from its origins to current practice. We begin with the various concepts of poverty and its measurement and how economists, social statisticians, public policy scholars, sociologists, and other social scientists have contributed to this literature. We then turn to a few empirical estimates of poverty across and within nations. We rely mainly on income data from rich and middle-income nations to provide perspectives on levels and trends in overall poverty, though we refer also to the World Bank's measures of global absolute poverty. In our empirical examinations we look at comparisons of trends in relative poverty over different time periods, and comparisons of relative and...

    The fundamental concept of poverty concerns itself with having too few resources or capabilities to participate fully in a society. Social scientists need to first establish the breadth and depth of the social phenomenon called "poverty" before they can meaningfully analyze it and explore its ultimate causes and remedies. In this chapter, we examine the complexities and idiosyncrasies of poverty measurement from its origins to current practice. We begin with the various concepts of poverty and its measurement and how economists, social statisticians, public policy scholars, sociologists, and other social scientists have contributed to this literature. We then turn to a few empirical estimates of poverty across and within nations. We rely mainly on income data from rich and middle-income nations to provide perspectives on levels and trends in overall poverty, though we refer also to the World Bank's measures of global absolute poverty. In our empirical examinations we look at comparisons of trends in relative poverty over different time periods, and comparisons of relative and anchored poverty across the Great Recession. (author abstract)

  • Individual Author: Citro, Constance F.; Michael, Robert T.
    Reference Type: Book Chapter/Book
    Year: 1995

    In Measuring Poverty a distinguished panel provides policymakers with an up-to-date evaluation of:

    Concepts and procedures for deriving the poverty threshold, including adjustments for different family circumstances.

    Definitions of family resources.

    Procedures for annual updates of poverty measures.

    The volume explores specific issues underlying the poverty measure, analyzes the likely effects of any changes on poverty rates, and discusses the impact on eligibility for public benefits. In supporting its recommendations the panel provides insightful recognition of the political and social dimensions of this key economic indicator. (author abstract)

     

    In Measuring Poverty a distinguished panel provides policymakers with an up-to-date evaluation of:

    Concepts and procedures for deriving the poverty threshold, including adjustments for different family circumstances.

    Definitions of family resources.

    Procedures for annual updates of poverty measures.

    The volume explores specific issues underlying the poverty measure, analyzes the likely effects of any changes on poverty rates, and discusses the impact on eligibility for public benefits. In supporting its recommendations the panel provides insightful recognition of the political and social dimensions of this key economic indicator. (author abstract)

     

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