Poverty Measurement

The purpose of this policy lab is to help to measure poverty in the United States on a sounder scientific basis. Despite widely supported recommendations by the National Academy of Sciences for revising the U.S. poverty measurement system, and despite valuable work toward implementing those suggestions by social scientists at the Bureau of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is still much important work on poverty measurement to be done. The new Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which is soon to be released, is a critical turning point in poverty measurement in the U.S. The purpose of this lab is to lay out how this important work should be supplemented with a few further key revisions to our poverty measurement system. Although there are of course many ways in which the SPM might be improved, our work proceeds from the assumption that the three most important revisions are (a) to monitor poverty and hardship in real time, (b) to build a national system for measuring poverty at the city and local levels, and (c) to assess poverty in ways that better reflect whether minimum standards of health care and child care are being met. With economists David Betson and Barbara Bergmann, we are developing new measurements on each of these three fronts.