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
Welfare Reform and the Families It Left Behind H. Luke Shaefer, Kathryn Edin

Welfare Reform and the Families It Left Behind

Author: H. Luke Shaefer, Kathryn Edin
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 01/2018

As early as the year 2000, randomized experiments with programs that were designed to closely resemble welfare reform showed that although the programs reduced poverty overall, they also increased deep poverty. Since that time, research utilizing numerous nationally representative household surveys and other data—using a variety of methods—has documented the stratification of the poor and the rise of disconnected families and $2-a-day poverty. Are these results driven by underreporting in survey data? No. When we control for underreporting, we find that the downward spiral since 1995 is even more dramatic than previously reported. The same is true of findings from SNAP administrative data. Findings from these more robust sources suggest that rather than roughly doubling since welfare reform, $2-a-day poverty tripled or quadrupled. For children in single-mother families, the change is especially dramatic.

Did Welfare Reform Increase Employment and Reduce Poverty? Robert A. Moffitt , Stephanie Garlow

Did Welfare Reform Increase Employment and Reduce Poverty?

Author: Robert A. Moffitt , Stephanie Garlow
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 01/2018

For 60 years, AFDC endured as the country’s best-known cash assistance program for the poor, until Congress replaced it in 1997 with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In a dramatic departure, the new welfare law introduced time limits and work requirements with the goals of encouraging work and discouraging “dependency.” Were those goals realized? There is of course a swirl of opinions on this question. In this article, we review the high-quality research on the law’s effects on work and poverty, with the simple objective of examining whether welfare reform succeeded in reducing dependence on welfare and increasing self-sufficiency.

The Geography of Poverty and Nutrition: Food Deserts and Food Choices Across the United States Hunt Allcott, Rebecca Diamond, Jean-Pierre Dubé

The Geography of Poverty and Nutrition: Food Deserts and Food Choices Across the United States

Author: Hunt Allcott, Rebecca Diamond, Jean-Pierre Dubé
Publisher: NBER
Date: 12/2017

We study the causes of “nutritional inequality”: why the wealthy tend to eat more healthfully than the poor in the U.S. Using two event study designs exploiting entry of new supermarkets and households' moves to healthier neighborhoods, we reject that neighborhood environments have economically meaningful effects on healthy eating. Using a structural demand model, we find that exposing low-income households to the same food availability and prices experienced by high-income households would reduce nutritional inequality by only 9%, while the remaining 91% is driven by differences in demand. In turn, these income-related demand differences are partially explained by education, nutrition knowledge, and regional preferences. These findings contrast with discussions of nutritional inequality that emphasize supply-side issues such as food deserts.

Who Speaks for the Poor? Karen Jusko

Who Speaks for the Poor?

Author: Karen Jusko
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Date: 09/2017

Who Speaks for the Poor? explains why parties represent some groups and not others. This book focuses attention on the electoral geography of income, and how it has changed over time, to account for cross-national differences in the political and partisan representation of low-income voters. Jusko develops a general theory of new party formation that shows how changes in the geographic distribution of groups across electoral districts create opportunities for new parties to enter elections, especially where changes favor groups previously excluded from local partisan networks. Empirical evidence is drawn first from a broadly comparative analysis of all new party entry and then from a series of historical case studies, each focusing on the strategic entry incentives of new low-income peoples' parties. Jusko offers a new explanation for the absence of a low-income people's party in the USA and a more general account of political inequality in contemporary democratic societies.

A Qualitative Census of Rural and Urban Poverty J. Trent Alexander, Robert Andersen, Peter W. Cookson, Kathryn Edin, Jonathan Fisher, David B. Grusky, Marybeth Mattingly, Charles Varner

A Qualitative Census of Rural and Urban Poverty

Author: J. Trent Alexander, Robert Andersen, Peter W. Cookson, Kathryn Edin, Jonathan Fisher, David B. Grusky, Marybeth Mattingly, Charles Varner
Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 06/2017

If we want to build authentic evidence-based policy, we need a strong descriptive foundation of evidence on the everyday experience of poverty. The National Poverty Study (NPS), which is currently in development, provides this foundation with a new “qualitative census” of the everyday conditions of poverty in rural, suburban, and urban sites. The NPS will allow us to build new evidence-based theories of poverty, evaluate and improve existing place-based antipoverty policies, validate official poverty measures, and assist local communities in improving the safety net for vulnerable populations.

poverty - CPI Affiliates

H. Luke Shaefer's picture H. Luke Shaefer Associate Professor of Social Work and of Public Policy; Faculty Associate, Survey Research Center; Faculty Associate, Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan
Janet Gornick's picture Janet Gornick Professor of Political Science and Sociology; Director, Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality; Director, US Office of LIS (Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg)
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Markus Jäntti's picture Markus Jäntti Professor of Public Economics; Professor of economics, Swedish Institute for Social Research (on leave)
University of Helsinki and VATT Institute for Economic Research
Trudi Renwick's picture Trudi Renwick Chief, Poverty Statistics Branch, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division
U.S. Census Bureau
David Johnson's picture David Johnson Research Professor, Survey Research Center, Deputy Director, Panel Study of Income Dynamics
University of Michigan


Poverty - Other Research

Title Author Media
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. 

How Much Protection Does a College Degree Afford? The Impact of the Recession on Recent College Graduates The Pew Charitable Trusts

How Much Protection Does a College Degree Afford? The Impact of the Recession on Recent College Graduates

Author: The Pew Charitable Trusts
Publisher: The Pew Charitable Trusts
Date: 01/2013

Past research from Pew’s Economic Mobility Project has shown the power of a college education to both promote upward mobility and prevent downward mobility. The chances of moving from the bottom of the family income ladder all the way to the top are three times greater for someone with a college degree than for someone without one. Moreover, when compared with their less-credentialed counterparts, college graduates have been able to count on much higher earnings and lower unemployment rates. Even during the Great Recession, college graduates maintained higher rates of employment and higher earnings compared with less educated adults. However, the question of how recent college graduates have fared has remained largely unexamined, and many in the popular media have suggested that the advantageous market situation of college graduates is beginning to unravel under the pressure of the economic downturn. This study examines whether a college degree protected these recent graduates from a range of poor employment outcomes during the recession, including unemployment, low-skill jobs, and lesser wages.

Vulnerable Populations and Transformative Law Teaching Society of American Law Teachers, Golden Gate...

Vulnerable Populations and Transformative Law Teaching

Author: Society of American Law Teachers, Golden Gate...
Publisher: Carolina Academic Press
Date: 03/2011

The essays included in this volume began as presentations at the March 19–20, 2010 “Vulnerable Populations and Economic Realities” teaching conference organized and hosted by Golden Gate University School of Law and co-sponsored by the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT). That conference, generously funded by a grant from The Elfenworks Foundation, brought together law faculty, practitioners, and students to reexamine how issues of race, gender, sexual identity, nationality, disability, and generally—outsider status—are linked to poverty. Contributors have transformed their presentations into essays, offering a variety of roadmaps for incorporating these issues into the law school curriculum, both inside the classroom as well as in clinical and externship settings, study abroad, and social activism. These essays provide glimpses into “teaching moments,” both intentional and organic, to help trigger opportunities for students and faculty to question their own perceptions and experiences about who creates and interprets law, and who has access to power and the force of law. This book expands the parameters of law teaching so that this next generation of attorneys will be dedicated to their roles as public citizens, broadening the availability of justice. Contributors include: John Payton; Richard Delgado; Steven W. Bender; Sarah Valentine; Deborah Post and Deborah Zalesne; Gilbert Paul Carrasco; Michael L. Perlin and Deborah Dorfman; Robin R. Runge; Cynthia D. Bond; Florence Wagman Roisman; Doug Simpson; Anne Marie Harkins and Robin Clark; Douglas Colbert; Raquel Aldana and Leticia Saucedo, Marci Seville; Deirdre Bowen, Daniel Bonilla Maldonado, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Colin Crawford, and James Forman, Jr.; Susan Rutberg; Mary B. Culbert and Sara Campos; MaryBeth Musumeci, Elizabeth Weeks Leonard, and Brutrinia D. Arellano; Libby Adler; and Paulette J. Williams. The editorial board includes Raquel Aldana, Steven Bender, Olympia Duhart, Michele Benedetto Neitz, Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Hari Osofsky, and Hazel Weiser.

The Impact of Early Experience on Childhood Brain Development: Nathan Fox Nathan Fox

The Impact of Early Experience on Childhood Brain Development: Nathan Fox

Author: Nathan Fox
Date: 04/2010

On April 13, 2010, the Center on Children and Families at Brookings and the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University sponsored an event that focused on the science of early brain development and the role that chronic stress early in life plays in the arrested development of children raised in risky situations. The policy implications of these and similar findings were discussed. This segment features Nathan A. Fox, Professor, University of Maryland, describing pioneering work that he and his colleagues carried out in Bucharest, Romania, looking at how institutionalization of children can profoundly harm children’s brain development.

The Invisible Safety Net: Protecting the Nation's Poor Children and Families Currie, Janet M.

The Invisible Safety Net: Protecting the Nation's Poor Children and Families

Author: Currie, Janet M.
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Date: 11/2008