1 Married ... without Means Among Married Americans Poverty and Economic Hardship Shawn Fremstad November 201 2 Center for Economic and Policy Research 1611 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 400 Washington, D.C. 20009 202 293 - 5380 - www.cepr.net
2 CEPR i Married ... without Means Contents ... ... ... ... ... 1 Introduction ... ... ... 2 Marital Poverty Using the Federal Poverty Line ... ... ... 3 Marital Poverty Using a Contemporary Poverty Line - ... ... Age Married Adults 5 Contemporary Income Poverty Among Prime ... ... ... ... Children and Poverty Risk 6 ... Limitations and Directions for Future Research ... ... 8 ... ... ... 10 Conclusion ... ... ... ... Appendix 11 ... ... ... 11 ... ... Methodology for Contemporary Poverty Threshold ... ... 11 Background on How the Federal Poverty Line has Defined Economic Deprivation Down 15 ... ... ... ... ... References About the Authors Shawn Fremstad is the Director of the Inclusive and Sustainable Economy Initiative at the Center icy Research in Washington, D.C. for Economic and Pol Acknowledgements The author thanks Dean Baker, Virginia Rutter, Arloc Sherman, Danilo Trisi, and Nicole W oo for . their h elpful comments
3 CEPR 1 Married ... without Means Introduction More than 7 million married adults under age 65 in the United States have incomes below the currently about $23,000 for a m austere federal poverty line arried couple with two children — . ren, 43 percent are married Among parents living below the poverty line and caring for minor child more married parents with incomes below the poverty line than there (and not separated). There are married ones, and more food - are never - insecure adults live in households with children headed by married couples than in ones hea ded by just a man or woman. be easy to get the impression that poverty and economic Yet, listening to policy elites, it would deprivation are ancient history for married Americans — a major problem during the Great Depression, but not during the Great Recession or the several decades of rising inequality that preceded it. As historian Stephanie Coontz has noted, today there is “a sort of attitude ... magical e thinking, that if we get you married, then you’ll be fin poverty programs - and we don’t have to worry about anti 1 Key Findings Scholars, ... we don’t have to worry about child care.” ts and other policy elites need to end their magical pundi More than 7 million married non - thinking about marriage and acknowledge the widespread elderly adults have below 2 - poverty nature of marital poverty and economic hardship. This incomes. brief takes an initial step toward doing this by Among parents living below the highlighting this neglected issue. poverty line and caring for minor children, 43 percent are married. sibility of marital poverty is likely due in part to The invi Using a contemporary poverty line — the cultural and political idealization of marriage in the conservative one equal to $33,686 a United States. The sociologist Andrew Cherlin prefaced 13.5 million for a family of four — his recent book on the state of marriage in the United married adults have below - poverty he United States is the States with the observation that t incomes, and half of parents living only Western country in which you will find billboards below the poverty line and caring for 3 minor children are married. and bus ads proclaiming that “Marriage Works.” If you 49) parents Among prime - age (30 - hold up marriage as a cultural ideal, as even most young living below the po verty line and - married parents do, you may have a hard people and non caring for minor children, 60 percent nciling the cultural ideal of married bliss with time reco are married (and not separated). the reality that more than 7 million married Americans Married adults who raise children are live in poverty. - 56 percent more likely to have below poverty incomes than married adults A second major factor contributing to the invisibility of without children. marital poverty is our obsolete poverty line and overall ng income poverty. In fact, as this approach to measuri analysis will show, if one updates the poverty line for increases in mainstream living standards over the last half century — an updating that still leaves it more than $10,000 below the amount most Americans think of as t he minimum families need to make ends meet — the number of married parents in poverty increases by 78 percent, and about one out of every two parents in poverty are married. Mehta (2005). 1 2 I use “policy elite” here in the same way as Small et al. (2010) . Cherlin (2009), p. 3. 3
4 CEPR 2 Married ... without Means Spotlighting marital poverty and hardship is in the interest of both progressives and conservatives. For progressives, spotlighting marital poverty can help make the case that economic hardship is not limited to some group easily marginalized as “other Americans,” and that families of all shapes and sizes are “in this together.” Conse rvatives who want to increase marriage rates th r ough either publicly subsidized promotion of marriage or private collective action should be just as concerned about the invisibility of marital poverty. The idealization of marriage may be fine when a married couple’s finances and prospects are “for better.” But this idealization may weaken marital bonds when a couple’s finances move in the “for worse” direction. If a married couple’s income falls precipitously after a spouse’s job is outsourced, their marriag e may no longer live up to the idealized view that married people aren’t 4 poor. Remembering the ad slogan on the bus shelter proclaiming that “married people earn more , ” money hasn’t they may be more likely to view their individual marriage as a failure since it 5 performed as advertised. Why do so many married adults struggle to make ends meet in the United States? The problem is mostly due to policy decisions that have allowed wages to stagnate and decline over time. In addition, despite the increase in women’s employment over the last several decades, policymakers have yet to put in place a coordinated, comprehensive system of child care and early education — one — or adopt basic nati that makes quality care and early education a birthright for all children onal standards for paid family leave. If we want to reduce marital poverty and hardship — and increase family economic security generally — over the next two decades, we need to fix the economy by strengthening existing labor unions, and creating new basic standards that apply nationwide, including institutions, particularly ones for paid family leave. And, in the immediate short term, we need more public investment to create jobs and rebuild the economy. Finally, we need to strengthen existing, effectiv e systems of social protection, including Social Security and Medicaid, and overhaul ones that have completely . failed struggling married parents, particularly Temporary Assistance for Families Marital Poverty Using the Federal Poverty Line shows the number of non - elderly adults with incomes below the federal poverty line by Table 1 marital status and presence of minor children in 2010. For a married couple with two minor children, the federal poverty line in 2010 was only $22,113. As this table sho ws, among adults with incomes below the poverty line who are caring for children, marriage is typical, not an exception. 6 Nearly half (49 percent) are currently married, including 6 percent who are married but separated. - elderl y adults caring for minor children have never been married . Only about 40 percent of non have found that, for low 4 (2011) Tara Watson and Sara McLanahan - income men, the ratio between their income and the income of fully employed men in their local reference group is a strong predictor of marital status. For low - income men, a 10 percent higher r eference group income is associated with a 2 percent reduction in marriage. 5 For a copy of this ad, see http://www.marriageworksusa.com . 6 Persons classified as separated in the CPS include those with legal separations, those living apart with intentions of obtaining a divorce, and other persons permanently or temporarily estranged from their spouses because of marital discord.
5 CEPR 3 Married ... without Means TABLE 1 elderly Adults (18 64) Below Federal Poverty Line, by Marital Status and Presence of - Non - Related Minor Children Adults Caring for Related Related Adults Not Caring for Minor Children Minor Children Number Percent of Percent of Number (millions) Total (millions) Total Married 5068 43% 2362 16% Separated 751 6% 716 Married, but 5% 235 2% Widowed 532 4% Divorced 18% 1226 10% 2633 - Married Never 4614 39% 8120 57% Total 11894 100% 14364 100% Source: Author’s calculations using Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Federal poverty line in 2010 was equal to $22,113 for a family of four. Marital Poverty Using a Contemporary Poverty Line The poverty threshold for the official measure was created in the early 1960s based on data from a 1955 survey of consumption expenditures. Since then, it has been updated for inflation, but not for nomy and mainstream living standards over the last half century. As a real growth in the eco consequence, to be counted as poor today according to the official poverty line, families need to be o be considerably worse off compared to a typical American family than a poor family had t compared to a typical family half a century ago. The failure to update the poverty line over the last half century contributes to the invisibility of non - marital poverty. Using the obsolete official measure, many married couples are classified as poor today, even though they would have been classified as poor in previous decades. Table 2 corrects for this problem by using a contemporary poverty line, one equal to roughly the 7 same percentage of median income as the federal poverty line when ini tially established. This produces a contemporary poverty line equal to $33,868 for a married couple with two children in 2010. The vast majority of Americans would agree that roughly $34,000 remains a conservative measure of the annual income needed to avoid poverty — that is, to maintain a minimally decent living standard 8 in today’s economy. This can be shown by comparing it with responses to a 2007 Gallup survey, 7 The Appendix further explains why the current poverty line is obsolete as a mea sure of a minimally decent income, and how the contemporary poverty line used in this paper is constructed. 8 On the definition of poverty as not being able to afford a minimally decent standard of living, see Blank (2008) a family has so little income that they are unable to purchase the things that we as a (“living in poverty suggests that
6 CEPR 4 Married ... without Means which asked Americans to estimate “the minimum amount of yearly income a family of four wou ld 9 The average response was $52,087 and the median one need to ‘get along in your local community.” was $45,000, still $11,000 higher than the contemporary poverty threshold used here. The contemporary poverty line is also lower than the income cutoff for various means - tested public for assistance programs, such as the National School Lunch Program , which has an income limit of $40,792 for a family of four. price meals reduced - TABLE 2 elderly Adults (18 ow a Contemporary Poverty Line, 64) Bel Non - - by Marital Status and Presence of Related Minor Children, 2010 Adults Caring for Adults Not Caring for Related Minor Children Related Minor Children Number Percent of Number Percent of (millions) Total (millions) Total Married 9015 49% 4540 24% 1049 6% 5% 880 Married, but Separated 329 Widowed 2% 812 4% Divorced 18% 1752 10% 3444 Married 6203 Never - 34% 9218 49% Total 18346 100% 18895 100% Source: Author’s calculations using Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Contemporary poverty line is equal to $33,868 in 2010 for a family of four. Here, again, marriage is typical among non - elderly adults with children. More than half (55 percent) - third of married, including 6 percent who are married but separated. Only about one are currently - elderly adults caring for minor children have never been married. non compares the number of non - elderly parents with below - poverty incomes in Table 1 Figure 1 verty line) with the number with below (federal po poverty incomes in Table 2 (contemporary - poverty line). The most striking difference is the very large increase in marital poverty when a contemporary poverty standard is used. Using the updated poverty standard, the number of married parents who are poor, increases by about 4.3 million, a 74 percent increase. society think they need for a minimally decent life. In the United States, this typically means more than escaping starvation; it means being able to purchase the goods and services that are necessary to afford adequate and stable housing, find and hold a job, participate as a citizen in the community, keep oneself and one’s family reasonably healthy, and provide the things that one’s children need to participate effecti vely in school.”). 9 Jones (2007) .
7 CEPR 5 Married ... without Means FIGURE 1 - elderly Adults with Below - Poverty Income who are Caring for Children, by Marital Status Number of Non and Federal vs. Contemporary Poverty Line 6203 Never-Married 4614 2081 Divorced or Widowed 1461 Below Contemporary Poverty Line Below Federal Poverty Line 1049 Married but Separated 751 9015 Married 5068 2000 0 1000 4000 10000 9000 8000 7000 6000 5000 3000 Poverty Incomes who are Caring for Related Minor Children 64) with Below - Adults (18 - (Number in Thousands) Source: Author’s calculations using Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Contemporary poverty line is equal to $33,868 in 2010 for a family of four. Contemporary Income Poverty Among Prime - Age Married Adults stand marital poverty, it may be useful to look at the group Charles Murray defines To further under as “prime age adults”: people who are no younger than thirty and no older than forty - nine. As - Murray has explained, this allows us “to focus on adults in the prime of life, with their educations usually completed, engaged in careers and raising families. People in their twenties and fifties are in 10 decades of transition.” shows, there were 9.5 million prime As Table 3 age parents with incomes below the contemporary - line in 2010. Of these parents, 5.7 million, nearly six out of every ten were married. Adding poverty in parents who are married but separated brings the marital poverty share up to two out of every three prime - age parents. By contrast, only about one in five had never been married. 10 Murray (2012), p. 147.
8 CEPR 6 Married ... without Means TABLE 3 Prime Age Adults (30 - 49) Below a Contemporary Poverty Line, by Marital - Status and Presence of Related Minor Children, 2010 Adults Caring for Adults Not Caring for Related Minor Children Related No Children Percent of Number Percent of Number (millions) (millions) Total Total Married 5741 60% 1320 23% 680 7% Married, but Separated 406 7% 148 Widowed 2% 141 2% Divorced 20% 1198 13% 1,125 - Married Never 1,764 19% 2736 48% Total 9,530 100% 5728 100% Source: Author’s calculations using Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Contemporary poverty line is equal to $33,868 in 2010 for a family of four. age adults who are not living with related children, nearly half Among the smaller group of prime - (48 percent) have never been married. Still, three out of ten (30 percent) are either married (23 percent) or married, but separated (7.1 percent), and just o ver one in five had been married (but are now divorced or widowed). Children and Poverty Risk As researchers have found, “motherhood is central to contemporary gendered expectations for so strong that parenthood appears women” and the “cultural expectation to bear and rear children is 11 Thus, it is no surprise that most prime - age adults are raising normative and childlessness deviant.” - age adults who have children. Yet, despite the seemingly normative status of parenthood, prime r poverty risks than those who do not. children face much greate As shows, among married prime - age adults, those caring for children are 56 percent more Table 4 likely to be living below the contemporary poverty line than those who are not caring for children. Similarly, in each of the remaining marital status categories, prime - age adults caring for children are much more likely to live below the contemporary poverty line than adults with the same marital status who do not have children. 11 See McQuillan et al (2008) .
9 CEPR 7 Married ... without Means TABLE 4 49) Caring for Children Have Higher Poverty Rates Prime - Age Adults (30 - Percentage Increase in Poverty Risk for Contemporary Poverty Rate Adults Caring for of Adults - Number of Prime Compared to Children Age Adults Below Adults with Same Marital Status who are Contemporary Poverty Caring for Not Caring for Not Caring for Related Minor Line who are Caring for Related Minor Children (thousands) Children Children Children - 9531 All Prime 16.5% 20.1% 21% Age Adults By Marital Status Married 5741 56% 9.7% 15.1% 53% 29.2% Married But Separated 680 82% Widowed 148 33.1% 42.5% 28% Divorced 1198 65% 32.2% 19.5% Never Married 1764 112% 20.3% 43.2% Supplement. Source: Author’s calculations using Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Contemporary poverty line is equal to $33,868 in 2010 for a family of four. Not surprisingly, divorced parents (who have not remarried) have higher poverty rates than currently married parents. However, there is not much difference in the impact that caring for a child has on their respective risks of living in poverty (56 percent increase in poverty risk for married parents compared to a 65 percent increase for divorced ones). And divorced parents caring for children have lower poverty rates and less poverty risk associated with children than married but separated parents r married ones. and neve About 41 percent of married prime - age parents living below the poverty line are Latinos, a group disproportionately employed in poorly compensated jobs. Divorced parents are mostly non - Latino d support norms and enforcement, as well as gains in and white. For them, the strengthening of chil pay equity and women’s employment over time, poverty risk have probably helped lower the associated with raising children. Figure 2 below is a bubble chart that displays, by marital status, the number of prime - age adults with below - poverty incomes who are caring for children (the first data column in table 4), the poverty rate for prime - age adults caring for children (the third data column), and the increase in poverty risk associated with caring for c hildren (the fourth data column).
10 CEPR 8 Married ... without Means FIGURE 2 Age Parents with Below - Poverty Incomes — Number, Poverty Rate, and Poverty Risk Associated with Prime - Having Children by Marital Status, 2010 140% Never Married 1.76 area is proportional Bubble 120% - to number of prime age adults below poverty line and each bubble is labeled with number in millions. Age Adults Raising 100% - 80% Married but Separated 60% 0.68 Raising Children Divorced 1.2 40% Married 5.74 20% Widowed 0.15 Children Compared to those with Same Marital Status but Not Percentage Increase in Poverty Rate for Prime 0% 40% 10% 0% 20% 50% 60% 30% 70% - Poverty Rate for Prime Age Adults Caring for Children Source: Author’s calculations using Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Contemporary poverty line is equal to $33,868 in 2010 for a family of four. Limitations and Directions for Future Research There are at least three limitations with the approach used here to marital poverty and quantify hardship. First, it does not address the considerable bias introduced by treating unmarried couples who are living together and sharing expenses as two separate family units. Currently, the federal poverty measure only accounts for m arital status and not for partnership status, even among unmarried couples who have children in common. Ideally, unmarried couples who share expenses would have 12 their own status in this analysis. If they did, the numbers of divorced, separated, widowed, a nd never married adults with incomes below the poverty line would decline, and the number of coupled 12 Research finds that cohabiting parent households do generally pool resources, although at a slightly lower rate than - in the — . Cohabitation is now the modal path to marriage r and Provenche ) 2004 ( married ones. See Kenney (2011) 2000s, 67 percent of women cohabitated before their first marriage. And recent couples who cohabit before marriage are no more likely to experience marital instability than those who do not. Manning 2012). and Cohen (
11 CEPR 9 Married ... without Means adults in poverty would increase. Currently, about 2.8 million parents in unmarried couples with incomes under $40,000 have one or more joint children, so even just taking this group into account 13 would make a significant difference. Second, I use the same income definition (pre - tax, money income) as the federal poverty measure. Credit, that should This has the effect of excluding some resources, such as the Earned Income Tax arguably be counted as income, while not subtracting some expenses, such as payroll taxes, that should arguably be excluded. Third, the analysis is limited to income poverty. It would also be helpful to look at various direct measure s of economic hardship, including food insecurity. Looking simply at USDA’s published tables on food insecurity, it appears that among households that include minor children, about 7.1 - insecure households com million adults in married couples lived in food pared 4.3 million unmarried 14 male or female households heads. I hope to address these limitations in future analyses, but for the time being let them stand in the fficial interests of simplicity and making a straightforward and conservative comparison with the o poverty statistics. In future research, it would also be useful to track marital poverty trends over time. In doing so, it would make sense to use both the contemporary poverty measure used here and a measure that is base year and then only adjusted for price changes for a period of anchored at median income in a - measure approach time (to avoid obsolescence, no more than 10 to 20 years at most). This two would be similar to that used by the Pew Foundation’s Economic Mobility Project to measure chan ges in economic mobility over time. Red Finally, it would also be interesting to examine geographic variation in marital poverty. In Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture , Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, an organizing theme in an effort to capture the relationship between different “use geography as 15 family patterns and different political and ideological packages.” They find that the demographic story is “overwhelmingly about the age at family formation.” and Carbone: According to Cahn The reddest areas of the country, both in terms of their politics and the lives of their families, marry and have children at younger ages and are most likely to see the embrace of traditional values as critical to community well being. The “bluest” areas of the country, and - particularly the urban Northeast, have the highest average ages of family formation and demonstrate the greatest support for mechanisms that effectively deter teen birth. for a prototypical red state (Texas) and a A quick comparison of marital poverty statistics prototypical blue one (Massachusetts) suggests that geographic differences in culture and economics play a similar role here. Texas has a relatively high poverty rate (17.9 percent in 2010), while 13 Author’s calculation from America’s Families and Living Arrangements, Tables FG1 and FG5, accessed on October 30, 2012 at http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/cps2011.html . 14 Author’s calculations from Table 2, Household Food Security in the United States, ERR - 141, Economic Research Service/USDA. The source for Table 2 was the December 2 011 Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement. A household is considered food insecure if, at least some time during the year, the food intake of one or more household members is reduced and their eating patterns disrupted due to a lack of resourc es to obtain food. 15 Cahn and Carbone (2010).
12 CEPR 10 Married ... without Means Massachusetts h poverty incomes in Texas as a relative low rate (11.4 percent). Parents with below - are significantly more likely to be married in Texas than in Massachusetts, and married parents 16 sachusetts. caring for minor children have much higher poverty rates in Texas than in Mas Conclusion - Most parents with below poverty incomes who are raising minor children are married. The failure of many policy elites to recognize the extent of marital poverty covers up the profound economic parents. To reduce marital poverty and hardship — struggles of millions of married and increase economic security for families of all types — policy makers need to expand and strengthen labor market institutions as well as universal systems of social protection against economic risks, and mak e quality child care and early education a birthright for all children . Similarly, in a recently published paper, Kearney and Levine (2012) 16 find that state - level income inequality, measure d using the 50 - 10 income ratio, explains a sizable share of the geographic variation in teen birth rates. The high inequality/high teen birth states are mostly red states (including Texas with the second highest teen birth rate in the - - inequality/low - teen United States, while the low birth states are mostly blue ones (including Massachusetts with th e third lowest teen birth rate) .
13 CEPR 11 Married ... without Means Appendix Methodology for Contemporary Poverty Threshold The contemporary poverty threshold used in this paper is set at nearly the same level of median official one was in 1959. I use conservative and transparent family income in 2010 as the assumptions to construct the contemporary thresholds. Specifically, I anchor the threshold to a - 1959 poverty threshold in 1959 percentage of median rather than average income. While the base equivalent to 53.2 percent of median income, I round down, setting the contemporary threshold was at 50 percent of median family income (as a result, the 2010 contemporary threshold is about $1,200 lower for an individual than it would be if I had used the ex act 1959 equivalent). To adjust for family size, I use a standard equivalence scale that divides household income by the square root of family size. So, for example, a family of four is assumed to need an income that is only twice as large as one composed of a single person. For certain family types, including single - parent families and families with children or people with disabilities there are strong arguments for using equivalence factors that assume lesser economies of scale than this approach. But in this initial paper, I want to establish a conservative baseline using simple and transparent methods. Both the official poverty statistics and the contemporary poverty statistics in this paper were calculated using the Census Bureau’s CPS Table Creator at http://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html. Background on How the Federal Poverty Line has Defined Economic Deprivation Down The poverty threshold for the official poverty measure was created in the early 1960s based on data from a 1955 surve y of consumption expenditures. Official poverty data using this threshold starts in 1959 with a poverty threshold that is equal to about half of family income (53.2 percent of median and 48.2 percent of average, both equivalised for family size). Today, ev en with declines in median - family incomes in recent years, it has fallen to one third (33.5 percent) of median family income. Moreover, as a result of increasing inequality, driven mostly by outside increases in incomes for the elite, it has fallen to only one - fourth (25.8 percent) of average family income. In essence, the federal government’s half - century - long failure to update the official poverty measure has defined economic deprivation down. To be counted as poor today, a family needs to be ly worse off compared to a typical American family than a family half a century ago. considerab Figure A1 charts how the official poverty measure has defined economic deprivation down since 1959. It compares the official poverty measure with two contemporary poverty measures that define economic deprivation consistently over time. The first has been adjusted to maintain the same level as a percentage of median family income as it had when it was set in the early 1960s. The second has been adjusted to maintain the same level as a percentage of average family income. To avoid confusion in this appendix, I will refer to the official poverty measure as a “base - 1959” poverty measure and to measures that maintain the same level of deprivation over time as “contemporary” pove rty measures, anchored to the same percentage of either median or mean income.
14 CEPR 12 Married ... without Means FIGURE A1 The Base - 1959 “Official” Poverty Measure Defines Deprivation Down Compared to Contemporary — Poverty Lines for One Person Measures $25,000 Base-1959 Poverty Line $21,971 Contemporary Poverty Line-Median $20,000 Income Base Contemporary Poverty Line-Average Income Base $18,002 $15,000 $11,344 $10,000 $5,000 $- Source: Author’s calculations usin g Current Population Survey. figure A1 shows, the contemporary poverty threshold (tracking half of median incomes over As time) for one person in 2010 was equal to about $18,000, an amount equal to approximately 150 - percent of the base agree that this is 1959 poverty threshold. The vast majority of Americans would a very conservative measure of the annual income needed to maintain a minimally decent living standard in today’s economy. 1959 measure with contemporary measures for a family of four Figure A2 below compares the base - a Gallup survey, which asked Americans to estimate “the minimum amount of and responses to 17 The average yearly income a family of four would need to ‘get along in your local community.’” temporary response was $52,087 and the median one was $45,000, still $11,000 higher than the con poverty threshold (median anchored) for a family of two adults and two children in 2010 of $33,868. (2007). 17 Jones
15 CEPR 13 Married ... without Means FIGURE A2 Minimum Income Standards for a Family of Four in 2010 $52,000 $51,500 $45,000 $43,943 $40,792 $33,868 $22,113 Contemporary Federal (Base- Public Estimate Income Commerce Contemporary Public Estimate 1959) Poverty of Minimum Threshold for Department Poverty Poverty of Minimum Threshold Threshold-Half Reduced-Price Threshold-Half Income Estimate of Income Needed-Mean of Median Needed-Median School Lunch of Mean Minimum Income in 2010 "Middle-Class" Income in 2010 Budget Commerce Department, and Sources: Author’s calculations using Current Population Survey; Gallup (2007); USDA. Gallup figures are for 2007. The rationale for this sort of contemporary threshold of minimum income adequacy, instead of the 18 The Wealth of - In current base measure, is straightforward and should be uncontroversial. - 1959 , Adam Smith defined poverty in terms of what “the custom of the country” required people, tions Na “even of the lowest order,” to have for a minimally decent standard of living. As Figure A2 shows, a contemporary poverty standard better reflects public opinio n on what “the custom of the country” requires than does the federal poverty threshold. 19 Similarly, echoing Smith, Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill explain that: ... relative poverty [a contemporary measure] is a better measure of individual well - being than absolute poverty [a measure set to living standards in some base year, and adjusted only for inflation since then], because social context and community norms 18 Of course, poverty measurement is a highly politicized area in the United States. This is likely due in large part to the use of the label “poverty” and the outdated idea that poverty can be best measur ed with a single income - based (2010a) measure. For thoughts on an alternative approach, see Fremstad . 19 Haskins and Sawhill (2009) , p. 37. Although the terms relative and absolute are commonly used in academic e imprecise and misleading descriptors. The current federal poverty literature, I avoid them here because they ar measure is commonly described as an “absolute” poverty measure, even through it was initially set in an explicitly 1955). As a practical matter, it’s hard to “relative” fashion (specifically relative to consumption expenditures in imagine a meaningful income poverty measure in a wealthy nation that isn’t “relative” to something. And the popular and political connotations of the terms absolute and relative have little in common with their me aning in technical, academic literature.
16 CEPR 14 Married ... without Means abo ut what it means to be poor change over time, implying that the poverty line should be adjusted as economic growth makes everyone better off. ... - 1959 poverty measure is On the fringes, some libertarian economists have argued that the base much too high b ecause the Consumer Price Index (which is used to adjust the measure) doesn’t take into account technological and other innovations, such as dishwashers, air conditioning, and 20 computers. Their argument is an interesting ivory tower one, mainly because, if applied consistently to both the rich and poor, it would mean that today’s rich haven’t just got a lot richer, but as a class in a way that goes beyond the wildest imagination of most rich people fantabulously richer fifty years ago. This would further st era - rengthen the case for returning to the historically high 1950s marginal tax rates on the current rich. But this approach also produces a poverty threshold of real - around $10,000 for a married couple with children, an amount that is completely lacking in any 21 world plausibility, and the proponents of this theory make no attempt to provide one. 20 For more on this approach and a more detailed critique of it, see Fremstad (2010b). 21 Ibid.
17 CEPR 15 Married ... without Means References , “ Presidential Address: How to Improve Poverty Measurement in the United Rebecca Blank . 2008. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 27, no. 2, pp. 233 v ol. - 254. , States .” Naomi and June Carbone . 2010. Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of , Cahn Culture New York : Oxford University Press. . Andrew J. 2009. The Marriage – Go - , and the Family in America Today. Cherlin Round: The State of Marriage : Vintage Books . New York . 2010a. “ Fremstad, Shawn A Modern Framework for Measuring Poverty and Basic Economic .” Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research. Security 2010 04.pdf - - http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/poverty 2010b , “ Income Inequality, and Food Prices ——— Washington, DC: Center for Economic and . .” http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/poverty - 2010 - 1 2.pdf Policy Research. Creating an Opportunity Society Haskins, Ron and Isabel Sawhill. 2009. Brookings . Washington, DC: Institution Press . Jones, Jeffrey “Public: Family of Four Needs to Earn an Average of $52,000 to Get By,” . 2007. , February 9. http://www.gallup .com/poll/26467/public - family - four Gallup needs - earn - - average - 52000 - get.aspx Kearney , Why is the Teen Birth Rate in the United States So High Melissa and Phillip Levine . 2012. “ and Why Does it Matter? ” Journal of Economic Perspectives , vol. 26, n o. 2, pp. 141 - 163, Spring. Kenney, Catherine “ Cohabiting Couple, Filing Jointly? Resource Pooling and U.S. Poverty . 2004. - , .” ol. 53, no. 2, pp. 237 Family Relations 247. Policies v , Wendy and Jessica Cohen . 2012. Manning Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Dissolution: An “ Examination of Recent Marriages Journal of Marriage and the Family , v ol . 74, .” no. 2, p p. 377 - 387 . McQuillan, Julia, Arthur L. Greil , Karina M. Scheffler, and Veronica Tichenor . 2008. "The Importance of Motherhood among Women in porary United States . " Bureau of the Contem Paper 7. Research Sociological , - http://iurl.no/8f2 Faculty Publications Mehta, Monica . 2005. “ The Myth of Marriage .” AlterNet , July 20 . http://bit.ly/uGMj7T. Murray, Charles Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 - . 2012. . New York: Crown 2010 Forum. Provencher , Ashley . 2011. “ Unit of Analysis for Poverty Measurement: A Comparison of the Supplemental Poverty Measure and the Official Poverty Measure .” Census Bureau , August 2.
18 CEPR 16 Married ... without Means Michèle Lamont Small ng, and , . 2010. “ Reconsidering Culture and Mario Luis, David J. Hardi , Poverty . ” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science - vol. 629, no. 1, pp.6 27. http://ann.sagepub.com/content/629/1/6.full.pdf Watson, Tara, and Sara McLanahan. 2011. “ Marri age Meets the Joneses Relative Income , Identity, and Marital Status.” Journal of Human Resources , vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 482 - 517.
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