National Academies Press: OpenBook

Measuring Poverty: A New Approach (1995)

Chapter: Unit of Analysis

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Suggested Citation:"Unit of Analysis." National Research Council. 1995. Measuring Poverty: A New Approach. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4759.
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Page 301

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OTHER ISSUES IN MEASURING POVERTY 301 however, the small sample size and attrition problems greatly limit disaggre- gated analysis (see Appendix B). Longer term poverty measures are almost always proposed as a supplement to annual or shorter term measures. It would seem desirable, for consistency, to have some measures that are derived within a common framework. For example, with SIPP (as redesigned), it would be possible to produce 4-month measures, annual measures, and measures of the proportion of single-year poor who are still poor 1, 2, or 3 years later. Another consistency issue concerns the treatment of assets. If assets are accounted for in short-term measures, the question is whether and how they should be accounted for in long- term measures. A publication issue with regard to longer term measures concerns the frequency of reporting. It seems unlikely that such measures would show large year-to-year changes; hence, it might be preferable to publish them at intervals of, say, 2 years or longer. In summary, considerable progress has been made in understanding longer term poverty, but there is not yet a consensus regarding the best measure. We encourage continued research that can further illuminate the nature and composition of long-term poverty and that evaluates the merits and uses of alternative measures. UNIT OF ANALYSIS AND PRESENTATION "Unit of analysis" is often used to refer to the unit for which statistics are tabulated and presented. However, in measuring poverty, one must first define the groups of people whose economic resources are to be pooled in determining poverty status. The subsequent decision is whether to present statistics in terms of those same units or to present them for other kinds of units; we use "unit of presentation" to designate this latter decision. One might, for example, have the family as the unit of analysis on which the poverty determination is based and then for the unit of presentation report the number of individuals in poverty. Unit of Analysis Throughout this volume we have discussed poverty as a characteristic of a family. We have defined a threshold level of income below which a family is defined to be impoverished, and we have discussed a concept of family income that can be compared with that threshold in making the determination of whether that family is or is not "in poverty." The current official U.S. poverty measure (see Bureau of the Census, 1993c: App. A) takes a family that resides in the same household as the unit of analysis; it includes unrelated

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Measuring Poverty: A New Approach Get This Book
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Each year's poverty figures are anxiously awaited by policymakers, analysts, and the media. Yet questions are increasing about the 30-year-old measure as social and economic conditions change.

In Measuring Poverty a distinguished panel provides policymakers with an up-to-date evaluation of

  • Concepts and procedures for deriving the poverty threshold, including adjustments for different family circumstances.
  • Definitions of family resources.
  • Procedures for annual updates of poverty measures.

The volume explores specific issues underlying the poverty measure, analyzes the likely effects of any changes on poverty rates, and discusses the impact on eligibility for public benefits. In supporting its recommendations the panel provides insightful recognition of the political and social dimensions of this key economic indicator.

Measuring Poverty will be important to government officials, policy analysts, statisticians, economists, researchers, and others involved in virtually all poverty and social welfare issues.

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