Methodological Issues

Poverty Measurement

In 1992, questions about the poverty measure gave rise to a National Academy of Sciences study panel, the Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance, established at the request of Congress. In 1995 the panel issued a final report and recommendations for change, Measuring Poverty: A New Approach (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences Press, 1995).

Each recommendation of the NAS panel invoked complex technical problems and policy issues. Since 1995, a research agenda to translate the panel's recommendations into reality has been developed through intensive discussions among organizations that strongly believe in the need for a more accurate measure of impoverishment. Some issues in revising the poverty measure are close to resolution or can be easily resolved; others, such as medical expenses and housing, still present complex methodological and political questions.

Since the publication of the panel's report, there has been much research on elements of its recommendations by a variety of government agencies, think tanks, and universities. The Census Bureau has also produced a large number of alternative measures of poverty. However, the methods used to produce these alternatives have changed from year to year, so that there are no consistent time series of alternative poverty statistics.

In June 2004, the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) convened a workshop to review federal research on alternative methods for measuring poverty. The workshop had been requested by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to evaluate progress in moving toward a new measure of poverty, as recommended in 1995 by the CNSTAT panel. John Iceland, rapporteur for the workshop, summarized its finding in "The CNSTAT workshop on experimental poverty measures, June 2004," in Focus 23, no. 3 (Spring 2005): 26-30

IRP affiliates have been closely involved in research on the most appropriate measures of poverty and in advocating that the federal government refine its current measures.

Papers from an April 1999 conference, "Poverty: Improving the Definition after Thirty Years," explore technical and policy issues in improving the poverty measure.

Conference: "Poverty: Improving the Definition After Thirty Years", April 15-17, 1999

Conference Summary, by T. Corbett
Introductory Remarks, by C. Citro

Conference Papers (.pdf format)
"Reshaping the Historical Record with a Comprehensive Measure of Poverty," by D. Betson and J. Warlick
"Political Consequences of an Improved Poverty Measure," by G. Burtless
"Alternatives to the Official Poverty Measure: Perspectives and Assessment," by R. Haveman and M. Mullikin

Student Presentations
"Adjusting Thresholds for Geographic Area," by R. Blaine and M. Sosulski
"Family Equivalence Scales in the Poverty Thresholds," by M. Oakleaf and K. Voskuil
"Modest but Adequate: The NAS Proposal to Change the Poverty Measure," by B. Kohler and K. Voskuil
"Treatment of Medical Care Expenditures in Poverty Measurement: The NAS Panel Proposal," by E. Kalinosky and B. Kohler

Survey Methodology

Child Support Demonstration Evaluation, Volume III, Technical Reports
The development and administration of surveys in an experimental context is a very complex exercise. The random assignment of cases to an experimental group that experiences the policy and a control group that does not means that comparisons between outcomes for the two groups will be an unbiased measure of the impact of the policy. The Wisconsin Child Support Demonstration Evaluation (CSDE) uses such an experimental design. As part of their final report to the state, CSDE investigators fully document methodological issues in the design and implementation of the survey.

Note: All technical reports listed below are in Adobe Acrobat pdf format.

Technical Report 1. Experimental Design
Maria Cancian, Emma Caspar, and Daniel R. Meyer

Technical Report 2. Implementation of the Demonstration
Thomas Kaplan and Thomas Corbett, with Victoria Mayer

Technical Report 3. Administrative Data Sources
Steven Cook and Patricia R. Brown

Technical Report 4. Samples and Weighting
Emma Caspar, Margaret L. Krecker, Steven Cook, and Patricia R. Brown

Technical Report 5. Design and Content of the Survey of Wisconsin Works Families
Margaret L. Krecker

Technical Report 6. Nonresponse in the Survey of Wisconsin Works Families
James P. Ziliak and Margaret L. Krecker

IRP Discussion Papers and Reprints

The Role of Randomized Field Trials in Social Science Research: A Perspective from Evaluations of Reforms of Social Welfare Programs
Robert A. Moffitt

One of the areas of policy research where randomized field trials have been utilized most intensively is welfare reform. This paper reviews the record of these experiments and assesses the implications of that record for the use of randomization. The conclusion is that randomized field trials have an important but limited role to play in future welfare reform evaluations, and that it is essential that they be supplemented by nonexperimental research. (DP 1264-03). This article is also available as IRP Reprint 840.

Three Years of Food Security Measurement Research in Hawaii
J. Derrickson

This paper consolidates and synthesizes recommendations from three years of food measurement research completed in Hawaii by the author. A practical outcome of this research has been the development of an effective food security monitoring tool for use in Hawaii. (DP 1226-01)

Concurrent Validity of the Face Valid Food Security Measure
J. Derrickson, J. Anderson, and A. Fisher

Findings of this study support the concurrent validity of the Core Food Security Module measure and the face valid algorithm among residents of Hawaii. (DP 1206-00)

Attrition in the New Beneficiary Survey and Followup, and Its Correlates
K. Antonovics, R. Haveman, K. Holden, and B. Wolfe

RPT 817 (Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 63, no. 1 [2000], pp. 40-49). In this article we explore the extent of and reasons for attrition in the New Beneficiary Survey between the first interview in 1982 and the followup interview in 1991.

Homeless Spell Exits and Returns: Substantive and Methodological Elaborations on Recent Studies
A. Dworsky and I. Piliavin

RPT 808 (Social Service Review, Vol. 74, no. 2 [June 2000], pp. 193-213).

This article's major substantive concern is the relationship between the type of housing situations to which homeless persons move and their likelihood of becoming homeless again. The issue of selection bias due to sample attrition, a serious methodological problem common to longitudinal research, is also addressed.