National Academies Press: OpenBook

Measuring Poverty: A New Approach (1995)

Chapter: APPENDIX A Dissent

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Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX A Dissent." National Research Council. 1995. Measuring Poverty: A New Approach. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4759.
Page 385

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APPENDIX A 385 APPENDIX A Dissent John F. Cogan Poverty statistics are the primary indicator of living conditions among people at the economic spectrum's lower end. These data are among the most important and the most politically sensitive data published by the U.S. government. That the method used to measure poverty has remained unchanged since its inception, despite well-recognized conceptual and methodological problems, is testimony to this sensitivity. In this environment, only a report firmly grounded in science can produce the kind of agreement among government officials that would lead to improvements in measuring poverty. The major recommendations and conclusions for changing the measurement of poverty by the Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance are not based on scientific evidence. They lie well outside the National Research Council's stated mission "to deliver science advice" to the government. Therefore, I have chosen to dissent. There are parts of the report for which the panel should be commended. The sections that address problems with the current measure, alternative poverty concepts, and measuring poverty across families of different sizes are particularly illuminating. More analyses based on the scientific literature would have improved the report. Social science research has developed a vast body of scientific knowledge about issues relating to the measurement of poverty. Indeed, many panel members have been important contributors to this knowledge base. There exist, for example, well-developed studies for constructing efficient, meaningful indices to account for geographical differences in living costs. This literature identifies sampling procedures that can be applied to maximize the informational content of surveys at minimum cost and to develop appropriate weighting schemes to create a consumption bundle that

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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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