National Academies Press: OpenBook

Measuring Poverty: A New Approach (1995)

Chapter: Summary and Recommendations

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Suggested Citation:"Summary and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1995. Measuring Poverty: A New Approach. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4759.
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SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS 1 Summary and Recommendations The U.S. measure of poverty is an important social indicator that affects not only public perceptions of well-being in America, but also public policies and programs. The current measure was originally developed in the early 1960s as an indicator of the number and proportion of people with inadequate family incomes for needed consumption of food and other goods and services. At that time, the poverty "line" for a family of four had broad support. Since then, the poverty measure has been widely used for policy formation, program administration, analytical research, and general public understanding. Like other important indicators, the poverty measure should be evaluated periodically to determine if it is still serving its intended purposes and whether it can be improved. This report of the Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance provides such an evaluation. Our major conclusion is that the current measure needs to be revised: it no longer provides an accurate picture of the differences in the extent of economic poverty among population groups or geographic areas of the country, nor an accurate picture of trends over time. The current measure has remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years. Yet during that time, there have been marked changes in the nation's economy and society and in public policies that have affected families' economic well-being, which are not reflected in the measure. Improved data, methods, and research knowledge make it possible to improve the current poverty measure. The panel proposes a new measure that will more accurately identify the poor population today. For example, for 1992, the year for which the panel had data available for analysis, the proposed measure, compared with the current measure, finds a lower poverty rate for people in families on public assistance and a higher poverty rate for people in working families. The

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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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