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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: 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: Wimer, Christopher; Fox, Liana; Garfinkel, Irv; Kaushal, Neeraj; Waldfogel, Jane
    Reference Type: Report
    Year: 2013

    Poverty measures set a poverty line or threshold and then evaluate resources against that threshold. The official poverty measure (OPM) is flawed on both counts. Because of these (and other) failings, statistics using the official poverty measure do not provide an accurate picture of poverty or the role of government policies in combating poverty. To address these well-known limitations, the Census Bureau recently implemented a supplemental poverty measure (SPM). In recent work, we have produced SPM-like estimates for the period 1967 to 2012, using historical data on incomes from the 1968 to 2013 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (March CPS) and historical data on expenditures from the 1961, 1972/73, and 1980 to 2012 Consumer Expenditure Survey (CEX). One possible limitation of our historical SPM estimates is that they rely on annual calculations of thresholds even in years where we have incomplete CEX data. For these reasons, in this report we apply an alternative poverty measure that differs from the SPM in only one respect. Instead of...

    Poverty measures set a poverty line or threshold and then evaluate resources against that threshold. The official poverty measure (OPM) is flawed on both counts. Because of these (and other) failings, statistics using the official poverty measure do not provide an accurate picture of poverty or the role of government policies in combating poverty. To address these well-known limitations, the Census Bureau recently implemented a supplemental poverty measure (SPM). In recent work, we have produced SPM-like estimates for the period 1967 to 2012, using historical data on incomes from the 1968 to 2013 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (March CPS) and historical data on expenditures from the 1961, 1972/73, and 1980 to 2012 Consumer Expenditure Survey (CEX). One possible limitation of our historical SPM estimates is that they rely on annual calculations of thresholds even in years where we have incomplete CEX data. For these reasons, in this report we apply an alternative poverty measure that differs from the SPM in only one respect. Instead of having a threshold that is re-calculated over time, we use today's threshold and carry it back historically by adjusting it for inflation using the CPI-U-RS. (author abstract)

  • Individual Author: Meyer, Bruce D.; Sullivan, James X.
    Reference Type: Report
    Year: 2006

    This paper examines the measurement of poverty in the United States from 1972 through 2004. We investigate how poverty rates and poverty gaps have changed over time, explore how these trends differ across demographic groups, and contrast these trends for several different income and consumption based measures of poverty. We also examine how sensitive different measures of poverty are to assumptions about equivalence scales, price adjustments, and the definition of the resource sharing unit. We document sharp differences, particularly in recent years, between different income based poverty measures, and between income and consumption based poverty rates and gaps. We find that sensible changes from the official price index and resource sharing unit tend to lead to substantial declines in measured income poverty rates, but our equivalence scale changes have only a small impact. We show moving from the official pre-tax money income measure to a disposable income measure that incorporates transfers and fringe benefits has a substantial effect on poverty rate changes over the past two...

    This paper examines the measurement of poverty in the United States from 1972 through 2004. We investigate how poverty rates and poverty gaps have changed over time, explore how these trends differ across demographic groups, and contrast these trends for several different income and consumption based measures of poverty. We also examine how sensitive different measures of poverty are to assumptions about equivalence scales, price adjustments, and the definition of the resource sharing unit. We document sharp differences, particularly in recent years, between different income based poverty measures, and between income and consumption based poverty rates and gaps. We find that sensible changes from the official price index and resource sharing unit tend to lead to substantial declines in measured income poverty rates, but our equivalence scale changes have only a small impact. We show moving from the official pre-tax money income measure to a disposable income measure that incorporates transfers and fringe benefits has a substantial effect on poverty rate changes over the past two decades. Furthermore, consumption based poverty rates often indicate large declines, even in recent years when income based poverty rates have risen. The patterns are very different across demographic groups, with aggregation hiding generally larger differences between income and consumption poverty rate changes, especially for the elderly. Income and consumption measures of deep poverty and poverty gaps have generally moved sharply in opposite directions in the last two decades with income deep poverty and poverty gaps rising, but consumption based deep poverty and poverty gaps falling. Although there are some practical limitations to an official, consumption based measure of poverty, we argue that consumption poverty is preferred for measuring changes in the well-being of the worst off. (author abstract)

  • Individual Author: Wimer, Christopher; Nam, JaeHyun; Waldfogel, Jane; Fox, Liana
    Reference Type: Journal Article
    Year: 2016

    The official measure of poverty has been used to assess trends in children's poverty rates for many decades. But because of flaws in official poverty statistics, these basic trends have the potential to be misleading. We use an augmented Current Population Survey data set that calculates an improved measure of poverty to reexamine child poverty rates between 1967 and 2012. This measure, the Anchored Supplemental Poverty Measure, is based partially on the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics' new Supplemental Poverty Measure. We focus on 3 age groups of children: those aged 0 to 5, 6 to 11, and 12 to 17 years. Young children have the highest poverty rates, both historically and today. However, among all age groups, long-term poverty trends have been more favorable than official statistics would suggest. This is entirely due to the effect of counting resources from government policies and programs, which have reduced poverty rates substantially for children of all ages. However, despite this progress, considerable disparities in the risk of poverty continue to exist by...

    The official measure of poverty has been used to assess trends in children's poverty rates for many decades. But because of flaws in official poverty statistics, these basic trends have the potential to be misleading. We use an augmented Current Population Survey data set that calculates an improved measure of poverty to reexamine child poverty rates between 1967 and 2012. This measure, the Anchored Supplemental Poverty Measure, is based partially on the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics' new Supplemental Poverty Measure. We focus on 3 age groups of children: those aged 0 to 5, 6 to 11, and 12 to 17 years. Young children have the highest poverty rates, both historically and today. However, among all age groups, long-term poverty trends have been more favorable than official statistics would suggest. This is entirely due to the effect of counting resources from government policies and programs, which have reduced poverty rates substantially for children of all ages. However, despite this progress, considerable disparities in the risk of poverty continue to exist by education level and family structure. (author abstract)

  • Individual Author: Kwadzo, Moses
    Reference Type: Journal Article
    Year: 2015

    A comparative analysis of different poverty measures, particularly across studies that use different conceptualizations and measurements of poverty, is very valuable. In highlighting this fact, this article compares three poverty measurements: monetary poverty, social exclusion, and capability poverty measurements. The results indicate that all three poverty measurements classify varied proportions of the U.S. population as poor. These variations occur as a function of the conceptualization and measurement of poverty. In general, all three poverty measurements are inadequate indicators of well-being. It is reasonable to suggest that researchers report results using more than one poverty measurement. (author abstract)

    A comparative analysis of different poverty measures, particularly across studies that use different conceptualizations and measurements of poverty, is very valuable. In highlighting this fact, this article compares three poverty measurements: monetary poverty, social exclusion, and capability poverty measurements. The results indicate that all three poverty measurements classify varied proportions of the U.S. population as poor. These variations occur as a function of the conceptualization and measurement of poverty. In general, all three poverty measurements are inadequate indicators of well-being. It is reasonable to suggest that researchers report results using more than one poverty measurement. (author abstract)

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