Session: Improving Our Understanding of Poverty in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

56 Improving Our Understanding of Poverty in the United States

Friday, January 15, 2016: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Meeting Room Level-Meeting Room 15 (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
Cluster: Poverty and Social Policy
Symposium Organizer:
Jane Waldfogel, PhD, Columbia University
Background and Purpose: Consistent with the theme of Grand Challenges, we offer this symposium of three papers that provide new evidence to advance our understanding of poverty in the U.S.  This symposium is timely and important given that the U.S., in spite of its great wealth, continues to have one of the highest poverty rates among advanced industrialized nations. The three papers that make up this symposium use new data to shed light on 1) historical trends in poverty in the U.S. and the role government programs have played in reducing poverty; 2) the intersection of poverty, hardship, and well-being in a major metropolitan area (New York City) and how those change over time; and 3) the reasons why individuals experiencing poverty and hardship may not take advantage of public and private programs available to them.

Data and Methods: The first paper, on historical trends in poverty, makes use of augmented Current Population Survey data covering the time period 1967 to 2012 to estimate an anchored historical supplemental poverty measure (as detailed in the paper abstract). The second paper, on multidimensional poverty and disadvantage in NYC, takes advantage of data from a new panel survey of New Yorkers, which includes extensive data on poverty, material hardship, and well-being. The third paper uses a sub-sample from the NYC panel survey and analyzes qualitative data from interviews with individuals who are low-income and experience hardship but may not have accessed government or private programs.

Results: Results from the first paper show that poverty has fallen by about 40% since 1967, when poverty is examined using the improved historical poverty time series. This contrasts with the picture that would be provided using the official poverty measure, which would show no progress against poverty over time. The paper also find that the majority of the poverty reduction since 1967 is due to government taxes and transfers, which again would be obscured using the official measure. The second paper finds that disadvantage in NYC would be greatly under-estimated by measuring poverty alone: although about 20% of New Yorkers are income poor, more than half are disadvantaged when taking income poverty, material hardship, and ill health into account. Having lower levels of debt and making use of government or private programs mitigates disadvantage, but not all of those in need make use of programs. The third paper delves into the question of why needy individuals do not access available services and finds several reasons, including lack of knowledge, preference for family resources, and stigma.

Conclusions and Implications: Taken together, the three papers in this symposium advance our knowledge of the historical and current state of poverty and the role of government and private programs. They also have important implications for policy and practice.

* noted as presenting author
Improving the Measurement of Poverty: New Estimates Using an Anchored Historical Supplemental Poverty Measure
Jane Waldfogel, PhD, Columbia University; Irwin Garfinkel, PhD, Columbia University; Neeraj Kaushal, PhD, Columbia University; Jaehyun Nam, MSW, Columbia University; Christopher Wimer, PhD, Columbia University
Not Income Alone: Measuring Multidimensional Poverty and Well-Being in New York City
Irwin Garfinkel, PhD, Columbia University; Julien O. Teitler, PhD, Columbia University; Jane Waldfogel, PhD, Columbia University; Christopher Wimer, PhD, Columbia University
Why Don't Some New Yorkers Seek Help? an in-Depth Examination of Service Non-Use in New York City
Vicki Lens, PhD, Columbia University; Christopher Wimer, PhD, Columbia University
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