University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Chapter 6: Poverty Measurement

The fundamental concept of poverty concerns itself with having too few resources or capabilities to participate fully in a society. Social scientists need to first establish the breadth and depth of the social phenomenon called “poverty” before they can meaningfully analyze it and explore its ultimate causes and remedies. In this chapter, we examine the complexities and idiosyncrasies of poverty measurement from its origins to current practice. We begin with the various concepts of poverty and its measurement and how economists, social statisticians, public policy scholars, sociologists, and other social scientists have contributed to this literature. We then turn to a few empirical estimates of poverty across and within nations. We rely mainly on income data from rich and middle-income nations to provide perspectives on levels and trends in overall poverty, though we refer also to the World Bank’s measures of global absolute poverty. In our empirical examinations we look at comparisons of trends in relative poverty over different time periods, and comparisons of relative and anchored poverty across the Great Recession.


Poverty Measurement, U.S. Poverty Measures