To understand the relationship between poverty and living conditions, a multifaceted understanding of what it means to be poor is required. In one sense, the answer to the questions "What does it mean to be poor?" is straightforward - having cash income below the official poverty line for a given family size. In a broader sense, the living conditions of the poor are difficult to measure, both because annual cash income is only one factor related to living conditions, and because the poor are quite heterogeneous.
This article represents an effort to get closer to the answer by summarizing findings from nine national surveys that shed light on the living conditions of individuals living in poor and nonpoor families. It differs from earlier examinations of living conditions and the material well-being of American families in that it draws upon a broader set of household surveys and attempts to maximize uniformity in the definition of family types and poverty. This work represents a coordinated effort of representatives of various Federal agencies that produce and analyze data from nationally representative surveys. The aim in this process has been to produce measurements of material well-being for an expanded set of dimensions, following a methodology that would promote comparability across surveys as much as possible. (author abstract)