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General Research on Income and Poverty
General Research on Income and Poverty
According to the US Census Bureau, the official poverty rate in 2012 was 15.0– down slightly from 15.1 percent in 2010. After an increase of 2.6 percentage points between 2007 and 2010 (from 12.5 percent to 15.1 percent), the poverty rate has stagnated, decreasing only 0.1 percentage point between 2010 and 2012. The official poverty threshold is based on the costs of food for different types of families. Other measures of poverty are based on different thresholds of need, definitions of income, or regional adjustments and may show different trends.
The number of people in poverty in 2012 (46.5 million) is the largest number in the 54 years for which poverty estimates have been published. Numerous studies have examined the effects of programs and policies on poverty and other economic self-sufficiency outcomes, such as income, earnings, and employment. The General Research on Income and Poverty section will explore theories, trends, measures, and predictors and outcomes as they relate to income and poverty for low-income individuals and families.
View recommendations from the SSRC Librarian on General Research on Income and Poverty and relevant federal laws and regulations below.
Poverty measures establish the income level which is used to determine whether a family/individual lives in poverty. Poverty measures also provide a framework for understanding the number and demographics of people living in poverty. Alternative measures have been developed at the federal, state, and local levels to supplement the official poverty measure, which the U.S. Census Bureau reports on annually. Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers are using the official poverty measure, supplemental poverty measure (also reported on annually by the U.S. Census), and other measures to capture poverty and income trends and data. Click the phrase below to view selected research and resources on poverty measures.
Below are selections from the SSRC Library on poverty measures. Click the titles to learn more about the research and resources.
This paper examines various methods of accounting for work related expenses (including child care expenses) in a new measure of poverty. We include a discussion of the treatment of these expenses in defining poverty. We begin with the imputation method as proposed by the Committee on National Statistics' panel on poverty. In the report released in May of 1995, they recommend a measure of family resources that contains income that is available to buy goods and services minus expenses that cannot be used to buy goods and services. This measure subtracts work related expenditures from income before determining poverty status, along with medical out of pocket expenditures, taxes paid and so on. We begin with this measure and examine various alternatives using the Current Population Survey. We then use data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation to update the imputations. We reestimate the imputed expenses using the CPS. We then move on to examine the effect of using reported data in the SIPP, and compare resulting distributions of work-related expenses. In all cases we recompute poverty estimates to examine the effect on poverty rates of using these various methods. (abbreviated author introduction)
In 2011, 7 million U.S. grandparent heads of households had a grandchild living with them. Approximately 3 million had primary responsibility for meeting their grandchildren's basic needs. In New England alone, 237,000 grandparents had grandchildren living with them, and 77,000 were the primary caregivers. But grandparents over 65 often face financial challenges supporting an additional dependent on a retirement income without financial help from the child's parents. Financial hardships can have an impact on the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of both grandparent and grandchildren. (abbreviated author abstract)
To better understand poverty and find the best strategies to reduce it, states and localities need to know who is poor, why they are poor, and what policies work best for different groups. Rather than rely on the official poverty measure, in use since the early 1960s, several states and localities have taken the lead in developing new measures of poverty that more accurately account for the resources available to their residents as well as their needs. Supported by a strong body of innovative research from the federal government and public policy research organizations, these new measures not only more accurately gauge the level of poverty but offer a cost-effective way to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs. Improved poverty measurement also helps policymakers identify effective new programs to assist vulnerable populations in meeting their families’ often-pressing needs.
This brief provides an up-to-date look at how pioneering states and localities are using – or plan to use – improved poverty measurement to build smarter social policy. In a difficult fiscal climate, investing in better measures to estimate poverty and evaluate the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs is sound practice that will enable policymakers to quantify whether and how interventions are improving outcomes for children and their families. (author abstract)
Drawing the Line: New Measures of Poverty Illustrate Just How Hard it is to Define Who is Poor, 2013
For decades, the official poverty rate has been criticized by economists, policymakers, and activists from both the left and the right. A variety of incremental improvements and wholesale changes have been proposed by both federal and private sector researchers. What these research efforts show, however, is not that one definition of poverty is unequivocally correct, but rather how challenging poverty is to define. (author abstract)
This is the third report describing research on the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) released by the U.S. Census Bureau, with support from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The SPM extends the official poverty measure by taking account of many of the government programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals that are not included in the current official poverty measure. The current official poverty measure was developed in the early 1960s, and only a few minor changes have been implemented since it was first adopted in 1969 (Orshansky, 1963, 1965a, 1965b; Fisher, 1992). The official measure consists of a set of thresholds for families of different sizes and compositions that are compared with before-tax cash income to determine a family’s poverty status. At the time they were developed, the official poverty thresholds represented the cost of a minimum diet multiplied by three (to allow for expenditures on other goods and services).
This report presents updated estimates of the prevalence of poverty in the United States, overall and for selected demographic groups, using the official measure and the SPM. Section one presents differences between the official poverty measure and the SPM. Comparing the two measures sheds light on the effects of noncash benefits, taxes, and other nondiscretionary expenses on measured economic wellbeing. The composition of the poverty populations using the two measures is examined across subgroups to better understand the incidence and receipt of benefits and taxes that are missed in the official statistics. The distribution of income-to-poverty threshold ratios and poverty rates by state are estimated and compared for the two measures. The second section of the report examines the SPM itself. Effects of benefits and expenses on SPM rates are explicitly examined, and SPM estimates for 2012 are compared with the 2011 figures to assess changes in SPM rates from the previous year. (author abstract)
Federal Laws and Regulations serve as the building blocks of policy and practice on General Research on Income and Poverty. The impact of these laws and regulations are a focus of research. Click the first link below to view legislative resources related to income and poverty. Click the second link to browse additional self-sufficiency legislation and policy in the SSRC library.