National Academies Press: OpenBook

Measuring Poverty: A New Approach (1995)

Chapter: Standard Setting in the 1970s

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Suggested Citation:"Standard Setting in the 1970s." National Research Council. 1995. Measuring Poverty: A New Approach. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4759.
Page 354
Suggested Citation:"Standard Setting in the 1970s." National Research Council. 1995. Measuring Poverty: A New Approach. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4759.
Page 355
Suggested Citation:"Standard Setting in the 1970s." National Research Council. 1995. Measuring Poverty: A New Approach. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4759.
Page 356

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THE POVERTY MEASURE AND AFDC 354 Over the years, amendments to the law, court decisions, and federal regulations have formally reaffirmed the states' autonomy in deciding AFDC benefit levels. In particular, the 1967 amendments to the Social Security Act affirmed the right of states to set benefit maximums and to apply ''ratable reductions" in order to set benefits lower than the standard of need. The 1967 amendments included a provision to require states to update their need standard to reflect cost-of-living increases since the standard was adopted; however, states were not required to pay benefits consistent with these increases (for an account of the results of this provision, see Rabin, 1970). Although the states have very wide latitude in setting their need standard and benefit levels, federal regulations have always been more specific about the resource side of the ledger for determining AFDC eligibility and benefits (see U.S. House of Representatives, 1994:327-331; Solomon and Neisner, 1993). Currently, to receive AFDC payments, a family must pass two income tests. First, the family's gross income cannot be higher than 185 percent of the state's need standard and the family's net or countable income must not exceed 100 percent of the need standard or payment standard, whichever is lower.14 Standard Setting in the 1970s In 1980, Urban Systems Research & Engineering, Inc. (USR&E) completed a study for the Social Security Administration of AFDC standard setting practices, which included a survey of all 50 states and the District of Columbia and case studies of 11 states. USR&E was critical of state practices with regard to standard setting. In part, this criticism stemmed from the viewpoint expressed in the USR&E study that a standard must be "normative" or "absolute," in the sense that an expert standard of need should be developed for each budget component—independent of expenditure patterns—and then priced out. But as we discuss throughout this report, there are other types of poverty or need standards that merit serious consideration, with advantages and disadvantages. However, USR&E seems justifiably to have concluded that relatively few states in the 1970s were following good standard setting practices, in the sense that they developed their need standard as the result of a well-documented, carefully worked-out process or periodically reviewed their standard to determine whether it should be updated or redefined. USR&E classified the methods originally used by the states to derive their need standard; see Table 8-2. Market Basket Pricing Studies "The market basket approach, which involves the specification and pricing of every component of need, is the traditional method for conceiving and measuring absolute need, and historically it 14 See Appendix D for details on changes to these percentages over time and on other provisions of AFDC with regard to countable income and assets.

THE POVERTY MEASURE AND AFDC 355 TABLE 8-2 State Approaches to Setting AFDC Need Standards in the 1970s and 1980s Standard Setting Method Used in 1970s Used in 1980s Local market basket pricing study Alabama California Colorado Colorado Connecticut Delaware District of Columbia Florida Hawaii Idaho Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kentucky Louisiana Massachusetts Massachusetts Minnesota Missouri Montana Nebraska Nebraska New Jersey Oklahoma Oklahoma Oregon Oregon Pennsylvania South Carolina South Dakota Utah Vermont Washington Washington Expenditure survey (of AFDC recipients) New Mexico North Carolina Ohio Tennessee Texas Virginia BLS lower level budget (as is or modified) Maine Maine Maryland New York New York North Carolina Pennsylvania Tennessee Utah Wisconsin Wisconsin Multiplier or expenditure ratio Illinois Montana Wyoming Combination Georgia Iowa

THE POVERTY MEASURE AND AFDC 356 Standard Setting Method Used in 1970s Used in 1980s Combination—continued Kansas Michigan Vermont West Virginia Legislative determination Maryland Michigan North Dakota Average payment New Hampshire New Jersey Rhode Island Poverty guidelines (as is or modified) Alabama Arizona Arkansas Delaware Florida Georgia Hawaii Indiana Kentucky Mississippi Nevada New Mexico Ohio South Carolina Arbitrary or not available Alaska Alaska Arizona Arkansas California (N.A.) Connecticut District of Columbia Kansas Louisiana Minnesota (N.A.) Mississippi Missouri Nevada New Hampshire North Dakota Rhode Island South Dakota Texas (N.A.) Virginia West Virginia Wyoming SOURCE: Data from Urban Systems Research & Engineering (1980:Exhibits 1 and 2); Larin and Porter (1992:xii).

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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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