Poverty and Deep Poverty

  • Kathryn Edin
  • Linda Burton
  • David Grusky

Leaders: Linda Burton, Kathryn Edin, David Grusky

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) reveals substantial post-1970 reductions in poverty under a constant (i.e., “anchored”) threshold, but this trend masks worrisome developments at the very bottom of the distribution. Although the overall SPM has trended downward since 1970, the SPM for households with less than half of the anchored threshold level (i.e., “deep poverty”) has remained stable since 1968. Even more worrying, the most extreme forms of poverty, such as living on less than $2 per day (per person), have in fact increased over the last two decades. The main tasks of our Poverty and Deep Poverty RG are to describe trends in poverty and deep poverty, to assess the effectiveness of current anti-poverty programs, and to examine the likely payoff to introducing new anti-poverty programs. We present a sampling of relevant projects below.

Frequent Reporting Project: Why are unemployment statistics reported monthly whereas poverty statistics are reported only once a year (and with such a long lag)? The CPI is hard at work solving this problem.

California Poverty Project: The CPI, in collaboration with the Public Policy Institute of California, issues the California Poverty Measure (CPM) annually. There are plans afoot to make it an even more powerful policy instrument. 

Ending Poverty in California: Is it possible to substantially reduce poverty in California by relying entirely on evidence-based programs? It indeed is.

The National Poverty StudyThe country’s one-size-fits-all poverty policy ignores the seemingly profound differences between suburban poverty, immigrant poverty, reservation poverty, rural white poverty, deindustrializing poverty, and the many other ways in which massive deprivation plays out in the U.S. The National Poverty Study, which will be the country’s first qualitative census of poverty, takes on the problem.

Income supports and deep poverty: The U.S. does not rely heavily on unconditional cash transfers in its poverty programming. Is this a mistake? The CPI is assisting Y Combinator in providing the first U.S. evidence on unconditional income support since the negative income tax experiments of the 1970s.

Disability and deep poverty: The country’s disability programs are an important anti-poverty weapon. In evaluating their effectiveness, it is important to determine whether the low employment rates among program recipients reflects an underlying (low) capacity for employment, as opposed to the labor-supply effects of the programs themselves. Although it’s long been difficult to assess such labor-supply effects, now there’s a way forward.

Evictions and deep and extreme poverty: Are evictions an important cause of deep and extreme poverty? This line of research examines the extent to which deep and extreme poverty can be reduced with a “housing first” policy that ramps up federal housing programs.

Deep poverty and TANF add-ons: The country is implicitly running hundreds of experiments on how best to structure TANF programs, but it hasn’t had the capacity to evaluate them. Are administrative data the answer?

Poverty - CPI Research

Title Author Media
State of the Union 2016: Poverty Janet C. Gornick, Markus Jäntti

State of the Union 2016: Poverty

Author: Janet C. Gornick, Markus Jäntti
Date: 02/2016

The well-known exceptionalism of American relative poverty extends only to rich countries, not to middle-income countries. Using a relative poverty standard for disposable household income, the U.S. poverty rate exceeds that reported in all of the other high-income countries in this study, with the sole exception of Israel. 

State of the Union 2016: Health Jason Beckfield, Katherine Morris

State of the Union 2016: Health

Author: Jason Beckfield, Katherine Morris
Date: 02/2016

The U.S. population is not just sicker, on average, than the European population, but also has a higher level of health inequality than the European population. The U.S. states that combine low self-rated health with high health inequality look strikingly similar—in terms of their health profiles—to Central and Eastern European countries.

Living in a High Inequality Regime

Living in a High Inequality Regime

Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 01/2016

Income inequality in the United States is the highest it has been since the roaring 20s. The rich are getting richer. The middle class is descending from the middle. The poor are getting poorer. What accounts for the increase in wealth at the top? What dynamic forces have shaped this spectacular disparity? How are Americans adjusting to life in this brave new world? What effect does the social fallout of this inequality regime have on the fabric of American society?

The effects of rising inequality have proven difficult to tease out, but as the United States enters a moment in history in which key policy decisions about inequality, mobility, and poverty are being made, it is important for researchers to examine this trend to learn why there is so much inequality in the United States. In this volume of The ANNALS experts examine the “social fallout” from this income imbalance.  They shine a light on the winners and losers, focusing on occupational inequality, racial and gender inequality, as well as inequality in veteran groups. They explore accessibility and segregation to gauge how educational and crime/punishment trends are shaped by inequality. Finally, they examine how inequality impacts Americans’ views of themselves and others; the dynamics of class and culture; and the effects of socioeconomics on marriage, health, and death.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same? The Safety Net and Poverty in the Great Recession Marianne Bitler, Hilary Hoynes

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same? The Safety Net and Poverty in the Great Recession

Author: Marianne Bitler, Hilary Hoynes
Publisher: Journal of Labor Economics
Date: 01/2016

Much attention has been given to the large increases in safety net spending during the Great Recession. We examine the relationship between poverty, the safety net, and business cycles historically and test whether there has been a significant change in this relationship. We find that post-welfare reform, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families did not respond during the Great Recession and extreme poverty is more cyclical than in prior recessions. Food Stamps and Unemployment Insurance are providing more protection--or no less protection--in the Great Recession, and there is some evidence of less cyclicality for 100% poverty.

Neighborhood Effect Heterogeneity by Family Income and Developmental Period Geoffrey T. Wodtke, Felix Elwert, David Harding

Neighborhood Effect Heterogeneity by Family Income and Developmental Period

Author: Geoffrey T. Wodtke, Felix Elwert, David Harding
Publisher: American Journal of Sociology
Date: 01/2016

Effects of disadvantaged neighborhoods on child educational outcomes likely depend on a family’s economic resources and the timing of neighborhood exposures during the course of child development. This study investigates how timing of exposure to disadvantaged neighborhoods during childhood versus adolescence affects high school graduation and whether these effects vary across families with different income levels. It follows 6,137 children in the PSID from childhood through adolescence and overcomes methodological problems associated with the joint endogeneity of neighborhood context and family income by adapting novel counterfactual methods—a structural nested mean model estimated via two-stage regression with residuals—for time-varying treatments and time-varying effect moderators. Results indicate that exposure to disadvantaged neighborhoods, particularly during adolescence, has a strong negative effect on high school graduation and that this negative effect is more severe for children from poor families.

poverty - CPI Affiliates

David Johnson's picture David Johnson Research Professor, Survey Research Center, Deputy Director, Panel Study of Income Dynamics
University of Michigan
Harold R. Kerbo's picture Harold R. Kerbo Professor of Sociology
California Polytechnic State University
Michelle Wilde Anderson Professor of Law; Pathways Editorial Board Member
Stanford University
Haya Stier's picture Haya Stier Professor of Sociology and of Labor Studies
Tel Aviv University
Herbert J. Gans's picture Herbert J. Gans R S Lynd Professor Emeritus and Special Lecturer
Columbia University


Poverty - Other Research

Title Author Media
A Comparison of Official Poverty Estimates in the Redesigned Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement Joshua Mitchell, Trudi Renwick

A Comparison of Official Poverty Estimates in the Redesigned Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement

Author: Joshua Mitchell, Trudi Renwick
Publisher: U.S. Census Bureau
Date: 01/2015

This paper presents a descriptive analysis of the poverty estimates from the 2014 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) redesigned and traditional survey questionnaires. The 2014 CPS ASEC utilized a probability split panel design to test a new redesigned set of income questions. The income questions were redesigned with the goals of improving income reporting, increasing response rates, reducing reporting errors by taking better advantage of an automated questionnaire environment, and updating questions on retirement income and the income generated from retirement accounts and all other assets. Our main finding is that, among the demographic subgroups examined, most differences between the poverty estimates for the samples assigned to the traditional and redesigned survey instruments were not statistically significant but child (people under age 18) and elderly (people age 65 and older) poverty were higher in the sample assigned to the redesigned questionnaire despite the higher aggregate, mean, and median income collected in the sample with the redesigned questions compared to the sample with the traditional questions.

Alternatives to Capitalism: Proposals for a Democratic Economy Robin Hahnel, Erik Olin Wright

Alternatives to Capitalism: Proposals for a Democratic Economy

Author: Robin Hahnel, Erik Olin Wright
Publisher: New Left Project
Date: 12/2014

What would a viable free and democratic society look like? Poverty, exploitation, instability, hierarchy, subordination, environmental exhaustion, radical inequalities of wealth and power—it is not difficult to list capitalism’s myriad injustices. But is there a preferable and workable alternative?

Alternatives to Capitalism: Proposals for a Democratic Economy presents a debate between two such possibilities: Robin Hahnel’s “participatory economics” and Erik Olin Wright’s “real utopian” socialism. It is a detailed and rewarding discussion that illuminates a range of issues and dilemmas of crucial importance to any serious effort to build a better world.

Are Latino Immigrants a Burden to Safety Net Services in Non-Traditional Immigrant States? Lessons from Oregon Daniel López-Cevallos

Are Latino Immigrants a Burden to Safety Net Services in Non-Traditional Immigrant States? Lessons from Oregon

Author: Daniel López-Cevallos
Publisher: American Journal of Public Health
Date: 12/2013

The significant growth of the Latino population in the midst of an economic recession has invigorated anti-Latino, anti-immigrant sentiments in many US states. One common misconception is that Latino immigrants are a burden to safety net services. This may be particularly true in nontraditional immigrant states that have not historically served Latino immigrants. Oregon data suggest that despite a higher prevalence of poverty, use of safety net services among Latino immigrants in Oregon is lower than that among non-Latino Whites. Immigration status, costs, lack of insurance coverage, and discrimination are among the reasons for this group’s limited use of services. Nevertheless, policies designed to strengthen community and institutional support for Latino immigrant families should be considered in the context of current health care and immigration reform efforts.

The Effect of Early Childhood Poverty Greg Duncan, Ariel Kalil, Kathleen Ziol-Guest

The Effect of Early Childhood Poverty

Author: Greg Duncan, Ariel Kalil, Kathleen Ziol-Guest
Publisher: Australian Institute of Family Studies
Date: 12/2013

Almost universally neglected in the poverty scholarship is the timing of economic hardship across childhood and adolescence. Emerging research in neuroscience, social epidemiology and developmental psychology suggests that poverty early in a child's life may be particularly harmful. 

Why Concentrated Poverty Matters Lisa Gennetian , Jens Ludwig , Thomas McDade , Lisa Sanbonmatsu

Why Concentrated Poverty Matters

Author: Lisa Gennetian , Jens Ludwig , Thomas McDade , Lisa Sanbonmatsu
Publisher: Pathways Spring 2013
Date: 07/2013

In 1987 sociologist William Julius Wilson published his influential book The Truly Disadvantaged, which argued that the growing geographic concentration of poor minority families in urban areas contributed to high rates of crime, out-of-wedlock births, female-headed families, and welfare dependency. The exodus of black working- and middle-class families during the 1960s and 1970s from inner-city areas had adverse effects on the poor families left behind in high-poverty areas, Wilson suggested, by eliminating a “social buffer” that helped “keep alive the perception that education is meaningful, that steady employment is a viable alternative to welfare, and that family stability is the norm, not the exception” (p. 49). Our research on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Moving to Opportunity (MTO) randomized mobility experiment raises questions about whether Wilson was right about the effects of concentrated poverty on the earnings, welfare receipt, or schooling outcomes of low-income families living in such areas. But MTO suggests concentrated poverty does have extremely important impacts on outcomes not emphasized so much by Wilson – such as physical and mental health.