National Academies Press: OpenBook

Measuring Poverty: A New Approach (1995)

Chapter: Unit of Presentation

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Suggested Citation:"Unit of Presentation." National Research Council. 1995. Measuring Poverty: A New Approach. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4759.
Page 307

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OTHER ISSUES IN MEASURING POVERTY 307 percent. The drop was particularly large for single adult children still living at home, who had been treated as separate units under the old definition but as sharing in the resources of the household under the new definition (Johnson and Webb, 1992). The effect in the United States of moving from a family-based to a household-based measure would not likely be as large because of the more inclusive way in which the family is already defined. Unit of Presentation Having selected a unit of analysis, that is, the unit for the measurement of poverty status, a decision is needed on the unit of presentation. Census Bureau reports from the March CPS have typically presented poverty statistics for both families and individuals; SIPP-based reports of poverty transitions have used individuals as the sole unit of presentation.15 The recent Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) Panel to Evaluate SIPP considered this issue (Citro and Kalton, 1993:172-176). The panel noted that statistics for family (and household) units are useful for such purposes as government and business planning, which often requires information on families or households for targeting purposes. However, for policy analysis and research on such topics as income inequality and the effects of government policies on poverty, the panel concluded that the use of household or family units can be misleading because smaller families or households are counted as equal to larger units. Ruggles (1990:123) provides a telling example of the effect of using families rather than individuals as the unit of presentation. The annual poverty rate for families headed by an elderly person is higher than that for other families, while the poverty rate for elderly people is lower than that for other people. The reason is more elderly people who are poor than those who are not poor live in small family units, while the reverse is true for the nonelderly. Hence, the elderly poor are a higher proportion of families in poverty than of people in poverty. Clearly, the family-based measure can distort the picture of the types of people who are disproportionately poor. The CNSTAT SIPP panel observed that another argument for using people as the unit of presentation relates to statistics that are developed on the basis of longitudinal data, such as the monthly demographic and income information in SIPP. The panel recommended that annual poverty rates from 15 Care must be taken in using CPS reports to be sure one understands the unit of presentation in a particular table. Thus, CPS reports include separate tables of poverty statistics for families of two-or-more people and for unrelated individuals (who are treated as one-person families for purposes of poverty measurement). CPS reports (like SIPP reports) also include tables for all people who are members of households. In each case, poverty status is determined on the basis of family characteristics.

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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