family essentials to avoid being absolutely poor

What are the basic essentials that a family needs in order to avoid being absolutely poor?

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
family essentials to avoid being absolutely poor
Just from $10/Page
Order Essay

Page 1 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

Rich Democracies, Poor People: How Politics Explain Poverty David Brady

Print publication date: 2009 Print ISBN-13: 9780195385878 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2009 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385878.001.0001

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty David Brady (Contributor Webpage)

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385878.003.0002

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter begins by reviewing the shortcomings of the official U.S. measure of poverty, arguing that it is unreliable and invalid. Then, the chapter reviews major theoretical and methodological advances in poverty measurement and advocates five criteria in the measurement of poverty: (1) to measure comparative historical variation effectively, (2) to be relative rather than absolute, (3) to conceptualize poverty as social exclusion and capability deprivation, (4) to incorporate taxes and transfers, and (5) to integrate the depth of poverty. Overall, the aim is to facilitate the integration of theoretical and methodological advances into the empirical measurement of poverty. Also, criticisms are made of absolute measures of poverty, the measurement of poverty before taxes and transfers, and measures of redistribution. This chapter makes a theoretical argument regarding how poverty should be measured for the study of affluent democracies.

University Press Scholarship Online

Oxford Scholarship Online

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 2 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

Keywords: measurement, conceptualization, reliability, validity, methods, absolute poverty, relative poverty, redistribution, social exclusion, capability deprivation

At the end of every summer, American citizens engage in a rather insincere ritual. Usually in the last week of August, the Census Bureau releases the “official” rates of poverty for the previous year. Poverty might be 12.6% this year, whereas it was only 12.3% last year. Pundits, professors, politicians, the press, and even the president rehearse their annual empty remarks on why poverty is higher or lower than last year, and attribute this failure or success to things that really have nothing to do with poverty’s true causes. We talk about the trends in official poverty in the United States and use these statistics to frame public debate and policies regarding poverty. These official poverty statistics shape how Americans think about poverty and construct and constrain the national discussion. The statistics take on a life of their own and, by doing so, make the entire episode remarkably dishonest.

The dishonesty is not really the fault of the hardworking government statisticians distributing the figures. One such statistician, Mollie Orshansky, constructed the formula for the official measure in 1963. She developed this poverty line purely for research, never intended it for policy, and quickly renounced it once it became the “official” measure. The Census Bureau, aware of its problems, presents alternative estimates, publishes criticisms of it, and does not really resist calls to revise the official measure.

The dishonesty of official poverty statistics is only partially the responsibility of politicians. Though guilty of an unwillingness to revise the official measure, it would be unusual for politicians to intentionally misrepresent poverty statistics. In contrast to how commonly politicians willfully (p.24)

caricature budget or tax details, for example, political debate on poverty statistics seems quaintly sincere.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the responsibility falls on social scientists. The official measure lacks any justification as a social science measure. And yet we continue to use it. By doing so, we contribute to how it frames our understanding of poverty. Every year, we spend a great deal of time and energy

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 3 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

reporting, debating, and scrutinizing an official statistic that is not a valid and reliable measure of poverty. By participating in the commentary, and especially by using the official measure in our research, social scientists give unwarranted credibility and legitimacy to a flawed measure. This acceptance and use of the official measure is the underlying reason the ritual is so insincere. This chapter proposes that social scientists should move beyond the official measure and, in the process, rethink the measurement of poverty.

During this time that social scientists have continued to use the deeply flawed official measure, scholars have actually made tremendous progress in improving poverty measurement.1 These poverty measurement experts have devised innovative and useful alternative measures of poverty. For example, Amartya Sen received a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998 for work that included his “Ordinal Approach” to measuring poverty. Though some of these new techniques are impractical, there have been many significant theoretical and methodological advances.

In the studies surrounding these advances, one thing has become tremendously clear: how one measures poverty truly does matter. The measurement of poverty determines how many people are counted as poor and how deeply in poverty they are considered to be.2 Indeed, one gets different results for the level, composition, and trends in U.S. poverty depending on the measure chosen. Simply answering the question of whether U.S. poverty has increased in the last several decades basically depends on which poverty measure is used.3 Thus, there are very real consequences to poverty measurement. Unfortunately, however, these important advances in measurement remain incompletely realized in the social science of poverty. This book advocates for these advances and, in the process, demonstrates that poverty measurement is an essential concern of any study of poverty. By utilizing state‐of‐the‐art measures of poverty, this book offers a more accurate account of patterns in and causes of poverty. Therefore, one contribution of the book is to ground debates about the causes of poverty in more sophisticated and justifiable measures of poverty.

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 4 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

This chapter begins by reviewing the shortcomings of the official U.S. measure. Then, I discuss the major theoretical and methodological advances in poverty measurement and advocate for five criteria: (1) measure comparative historical variation effectively, (2) be relative rather than absolute, (3) conceptualize poverty as social exclusion and capability deprivation, (4) incorporate taxes and transfers, and (5) integrate the depth of poverty. Overall, the aim is to facilitate the integration of theoretical and methodological advances into the (p.25) empirical measurement of poverty. What is more, this integration is the basis for how poverty is measured in the analyses in the remainder of the book.

Shortcomings of the Official U.S. Measure

The vast majority of U.S. research on poverty is based on the official U.S. measure.4 Occasionally, scholars modestly alter the measure or supplement it with other indicators. However, most survey data sets supply researchers with variables identifying respondents as below or above the official level. Typically, analysts just use these simple “dummy” (coded 0/1 or “binary”) variables. Others analyze and present historical trends in official poverty and debate whether poverty has increased since the official measure was adopted in the early 1960s. This widespread use of the official measure stands in stark contrast to what social scientists know and have written about the limitations of the official measure.

In the past few decades, a consensus has emerged that is deeply critical of the official measure. Indeed, almost all serious poverty scholars acknowledge the measure is flawed.5

William Julius Wilson argues that the official measure “does not capture the real dimensions of hardship and deprivation, it also does not reflect the changing depth or severity of poverty,” and that its income thresholds are “arbitrary.”6 In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed the Family Support Act, which called for a scientific review of the measure. In 1995, the National Research Council (NRC) Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance published the results of this review. The NRC panel, which included many of America’s most influential poverty researchers, concluded that the official measure is so problematic that it should be abandoned. In addition, the NRC

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 5 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

panel noted that these problems had gotten worse over the previous three decades and that, as a result, we cannot trust comparisons of poverty across groups or over time.7 Since the NRC panel’s report, many have reiterated the official measure’s limitations. Indeed, those that examine the official measure closely almost uniformly end up seeking to move beyond it.

The history of how the measure was constructed begins to illustrate its problems.8 Mollie Orshansky, a statistician in the Social Security Administration, constructed the measure in 1963. She used family consumption data from 1955 and what she called a “crude” calculus of family budgets.9 Orshansky used the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) “low‐cost food budget” and multiplied the dollar amount by 3. Even though it was never very firm, she postulated that food amounted to one‐third of a family’s expenses. She developed the line purely as a tool for research, and never intended it for setting policy. Contrary to her intentions, President Johnson’s Office of Economic Opportunity went ahead and adopted it as the official measure. Yet, they only did so after substituting the USDA’s “economy food plan,” which was about 25% below the low‐cost food budget. Orshansky clearly preferred the low‐ cost food budget, and pointed out that the economy (p.26)

food plan would only provide families with sufficient money in emergencies or on a temporary basis.10 The food budgets have never been revised since the 1955 data, and the measure was only adjusted for inflation. Partly because the adjustments over time were quite rough and partly because inflation involves many items besides food, the original link between food budgets and income no longer even exists.11 Even though scholars often defend the threshold for being based on food budgets, this has not been accurate since the 1960s.

Historians such as Alice O’Connor and Michael Katz have even provided evidence that the threshold was intentionally set low in order to make the elimination of poverty an easier political goal as part of Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”12 The official threshold was at least partly a political maneuver to classify millions of people as “not poor” who reasonably should have been considered poor. By defining these millions as not poor,

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 6 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

the Johnson administration could more easily claim to have won the war. Soon after the measure became official, Orshansky wrote articles criticizing it and explaining that her work had been misused.13 As Orshansky explained in 1969, “The best you can say for the measure is that at a time when it seemed useful, it was there.”14 At the very least, the dubious origins and amount of time since the measure’s inception suggest the need for revision. The NRC panel went one step further and argued that the official measure should not be retained.

In addition to identifying its questionable origins, one can judge the official measure in terms of the two main ways that social scientists assess measurement: reliability and validity. By both standards, the official measure is deeply problematic.

Reliability

The official measure is the same across the entire United States and for all population groups and has been basically the same since its adoption in the mid‐1960s. Thus, it may seem odd to fault its reliability. However, because it is constantly applied across time, regions, and demographic groups, the measure has become clumsily incompatible with the changing realities of family life in the United States.15 Significant demographic, economic, and policy changes have been ignored. The official measure was constructed during a time when the “typical” family included two parents: a male breadwinner and a mother at home with the children. Now that many of the U.S. poor are single‐parent or dual‐earning couples, the official measure is inadequate for appreciating the increased labor force participation of mothers and the related escalating need and expenses for child care. The original family size adjustments are now antiquated and do not capture the realities of contemporary U.S. families. Also, the economic insecurity of the growing elderly population—and their growing average ages—is not captured well by the official measure. Partly this is because the official (p.27)

measure does not budget for chronic health conditions or health care necessities like medication.

Relatedly, the share of family budgets devoted to different goods and services has changed dramatically.16 Food no

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 7 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

longer amounts to one‐third of a typical family’s expenses, and more accurately is about one‐sixth. Because it should set the line at food multiplied times six instead of food multiplied times three, the official measure severely underestimates a household’s economic needs. Moreover, the inflationary adjustments to the official measure are based on the cost of a basket of goods for the entire U.S. population (or all urban consumers). Because the poor are such a unique population, these price increases probably do not capture the distinct price increases they face. As a result of these and other problems, the U.S. measure has depreciated from its value in 1963 and underestimates what a family really needs to avoid poverty. Because of rising consumption and living standards, the NRC concluded that updating the poverty threshold solely with inflation has become inadequate. In short, the U.S. measure lacks reliability due in large part to the weak adjustments to the measure since its inception.

Validity

Because the official measure systematically underestimates poverty, it lacks validity as well. Many essential but burdensome family expenses, for example, health insurance, were not included in the household budgets underlying the official measure. So the official measure understates how much money a household needs to make ends meet. A household is defined as poor or not poor based on its income before taxation, yet taxes (especially payroll and sales taxes) deeply affect the disposable income of the poor. Also, “transfers” like in‐kind public assistance and near‐cash benefits are entirely ignored when defining a household’s income. Neglecting taxes and transfers results in an inaccurate estimate of the real economic resources a household has at its disposal.17 The earned income tax credit, housing subsidies, and food stamps have clearly raised the economic resources of such households, but payroll taxes have increased since the official measure was created. Considering all taxes and transfers together, the official measure probably underestimates U.S. poverty.18

These validity problems have fluctuated over time and place and, in turn, further compound reliability problems.19 Some taxes vary across the United States, and other taxes have

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 8 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

increased since the measure’s inception. Also, policy initiatives have not been incorporated into the measure. When the Children’s Health Insurance Plan and the Food Stamp program were implemented and when Medicare was expanded, the official measure was never revised. Finally, these validity problems prevent a reliable comparison across population groups. For example, Social Security pensions, a major resource for the elderly, count as income for the official measure, but major (p.28) resources for young families like food stamps, housing subsidies, and child care vouchers, do not. In the past 15 years, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has grown into the largest assistance program for families with children—even larger than Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, previously called Aid to Families with Dependent Children [AFDC]).20 Unfortunately, since the official measure is based on pretax income, the EITC is ignored.

As a result, the U.S. measure lacks both validity and reliability and warrants revision. We should be cautious in reading any social science that solely relies on this problematic official U.S. measure. We should question any conclusions drawn from the official measure. While the government lacks the political will to implement a better measure, social scientists have no justification for continuing to rely on this fundamentally flawed measure.

Measuring Comparative Historical Variation

A poverty measure must be appropriate within and across different national and historical contexts. Such a measure must allow for valid and reliable comparisons across different countries and over recent time periods. At the same time, a poverty measure should be meaningful within each of those comparative historical contexts. As the international poverty scholar Timothy Smeeding and colleagues explain, “A poverty standard cannot be established independently of the economic and social context within which needs arise and are defined.”21

Unfortunately, the official U.S. measure is woefully inadequate for conducting comparative historical analyses. The official

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 9 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

measure’s thresholds are even more problematic if applied in other affluent democracies. One cannot simply adjust the official measure for the exchange rates or purchasing power parities of other countries because the official measure is invalid and unreliable in the United States to begin with. Even if the official measure made sense in the United States, it is unlikely that the thresholds would reasonably differentiate the poor from nonpoor in other countries. For example, even if the official threshold of roughly $20,000 for a family of four was appropriate in the United States, it would make little sense in Germany or Canada. Those countries have publicly provided health insurance and health care, so the meaning of and need for disposable income is fundamentally different. Thus, converting the official measure to other countries’ currencies will not produce a meaningful threshold in those countries. Instead, social scientists need poverty measures that are grounded in each specific comparative historical context.

Many have shown that the biggest variations in poverty are cross‐national.22 There are bigger comparative differences between affluent Western democracies than there are over time within such countries. Hence, explaining these (p.29)

significant cross‐country differences is an essential task for theories of poverty. At the same time, several challenges emerge when comparing poverty across nations because different measures of poverty produce small but noticeable differences in the ranking of nations.23 Therefore, scholars need to be careful when drawing cross‐national comparisons. One should probably replicate cross‐national comparisons with different measures to ensure that any differences are robust. Also, analysts have to be careful that measures appreciate cultural differences in the definition of what constitutes a family or household. Hence, a number of methodological issues must be addressed in order to conduct cross‐national analyses.

Though cross‐national differences are probably larger, historical variations are important to the study of poverty as well. As mentioned above, simply answering whether U.S. poverty has increased or decreased over time remains controversial.24 Though some research finds that poverty

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 10 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

levels have remained relatively stable within affluent Western democracies, significant historical variation has occurred. Several countries, like the United Kingdom and Ireland, have experienced a substantial increase in poverty since the 1970s. Others, like Canada, have seen poverty fall precipitously in the past few decades. To understand poverty, scholars must scrutinize and explain both cross‐national differences and historical changes.

To enhance our understanding of comparative historical variation, two issues need to be carefully addressed. First, given the diverse meanings and nature of poverty across societies, scholars need to broaden the definition of poverty. To assess what are essentially culturally specific and historically contextualized phenomena, scholars need a comprehensive definition of poverty. Second, given the difficulty in comparing poverty across countries and time, to make general inferences about causes scholars need measures that grasp the same phenomena in each society. While seemingly contradictory, the next two sections explain how we can embrace both concerns simultaneously.

Conceptualizing Poverty as Social Exclusion and Capability Deprivation

In order to construct valid and reliable measures of poverty, it is essential to first theoretically define (“conceptualize”) what poverty means. Together, the linked notions of social exclusion and capability deprivation provide the most useful conceptualization of poverty.

Social Exclusion

European scholars have advanced the idea of social exclusion as way of thinking about poverty and disadvantage.25 In a masterful review, Hilary Silver explains that social exclusion has many meanings in different (p.30) contexts and for

different purposes.26 Nevertheless, she contends that a central element of social exclusion is the antithesis of Emile Durkheim’s concept of solidarity. Social exclusion therefore means marginalization, irrelevance, and isolation from a community. Other theorists characterize social exclusion to entail “the multi‐dimensional character of disadvantage and

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 11 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

exclusion in modern market economies,”27 multiple deprivation or “cumulative misery,”28 those “who suffer from an accumulation of disadvantage which cannot be reached by macro‐policies,”29 and those difficult to reach with social policy.30 In sum, social exclusion means incomplete, unequal, or disadvantaged access to the status, benefits, and experiences of typical citizens in society.31

Social exclusion unites many of the definitions of poverty implicitly conveyed by scholars of poverty. The notion of social exclusion echoes Michael Harrington’s concern that “the poor are losing their links with the greater world.”32 In addition, social exclusion is consistent with William Julius Wilson’s concept of social dislocation, which he describes as limited differential opportunities for economic resources, political privileges, organizational influence, and cultural experiences.33 Similarly, in his classic The Affluent Society, John Galbraith defines poverty as when people’s income “falls radically behind that of the community.” Galbraith emphasizes that poverty involves more than simply having enough to physically survive and is better understood as lacking what the “community regards as the minimum necessary for decency.”34

Theories of social exclusion have also been deeply influenced by the political philosopher John Rawls’s difference principle.35 Rawls argued that a society can be judged according to how it treats the “least advantaged” or “least fortunate group in society.” Rawls was concerned with these people “being drawn into the public world and seeing themselves as full members of it”36 and that the least advantaged are included as equal members of society.37

Anthony Atkinson explains that a Rawlsian definition of poverty applies this concept of the “least fortunate group” to the concept of social exclusion.38

Capability Deprivation

In addition to pioneering measures of poverty that I discuss below, Sen and Martha Nussbaum have developed the concept of capability deprivation.39 Capability refers to the ability or capacity to function effectively in society—as Nussbaum

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 12 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

describes, “what people are actually able to do and to be.”40

Capability also implies having the freedoms to participate fully and equally with the mainstream of society. The concept of capability also links to Rawls, who argued that basic liberties should be prioritized in a society.41 A society that deprives people of basic liberties can be understood as depriving those people of capability. Sen has built his definition of poverty in terms of the poor’s lack of substantive freedom of choice to achieve valuable “ (p.31) functionings” and the capability to acquire well‐being. In turn, a functioning member of society must have basic freedoms (or capabilities) to participate in society.42 As Lee Rainwater and Tim Smeeding explain, “Without a requisite level of goods and services, individuals cannot act and participate as full members of their society.”43

Uniting the Two

In many ways, capability deprivation and social exclusion share common ground. A person who is socially excluded has a limited capability to effectively participate in society. Atkinson integrates the two concepts by explaining that poverty involves “people being prevented from participation in the normal activities of the society in which they live or being incapable of functioning.”44 Similar to social exclusion, capability deprivation involves people lacking the basic liberties to participate equally in society. Thus, the concepts of social exclusion and capability present an engaging direction for analysts of social inequality.

However, because poverty is primarily an economic status, whereas social exclusion and capability deprivation appear to be multifaceted and complex, some readers might see them as incompatible. It might seem inappropriate to treat social exclusion and capability deprivation as market phenomena, rather than as something cultural, institutional, or social.

Yet, the economic market is one of several main mechanisms triggering social exclusion and capability deprivation. In affluent Western democracies, a low level of economic resources is a principal source of social exclusion and capability deprivation. Brian Barry has argued that an interest in social exclusion requires an interest in economic inequality, and that “[a] government professing itself concerned with

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 13 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

social exclusion but indifferent to inequality is, to put it charitably, suffering from a certain amount of confusion.”45

Bea Cantillion claims, “There is probably not a single characteristic that the ‘socially excluded’ have in common, except perhaps, not having a stable well‐paying job.”46

Atkinson exemplifies social exclusion as lacking a telephone in the home: “A person unable to afford a telephone finds it difficult to participate in a society where the majority have telephones.”47 While owning a telephone or lacking a job is based mainly on a person’s economic resources, these simple conditions lead to more elaborate social processes of dislocation and marginalization. Even while conceptualizing poverty with the broader and more nuanced notions of capability deprivation and social exclusion, it is still reasonable to define poverty in terms of a minimal level of economic resources.

Thus, escaping poverty is at least a necessary—if not wholly sufficient—qualification to avoiding capability deprivation and social exclusion. In order to participate in society and community life, it is essential to have an adequate income.48

Social exclusion and capability deprivation entail marginalization from society’s core institutions, and the market is one such core institution.

(p.32) Relative versus Absolute Poverty Measures

For many years, a lively debate has occurred between those advocating relative versus absolute measures of poverty.49

Relative and absolute measures involve different notions of deprivation, reflect different accounts of the nature and experience of poverty, and produce different estimates of how much poverty exists. Despite how long this debate has gone on, poverty scholars generally have come to a consensus. The poverty literature generally concludes that a relative measure is more justified in affluent democracies, whereas absolute measures of “basic needs” or “well‐being” are most useful in less developed countries.50 By reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of absolute and relative measures, I advocate a relative measure for the study of affluent democracies.

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 14 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

Absolute Measures

Absolute measures set a cross‐nationally and historically constant threshold, and this threshold distinguishes poor from nonpoor across all contexts. Absolute measures assume that a certain level of material resources purchases an essential bundle of goods necessary for well‐being. For example, except for inflationary adjustments, the U.S. measure is meant to be absolute over time, regions, and family types. The World Bank defines poverty absolutely as living on less than one dollar per day in Sub‐Saharan Africa and less than two dollars per day in Eastern Europe. Thus, absolute measures tend be tied to the concept of well‐being and indicators of basic needs such as caloric intake. Sen contends that when studying developing countries, absolute measures remain useful.51 Nevertheless, absolute measures suffer from serious limitations when applied to developed countries.

Most international poverty analysts have become understandably skeptical that absolute measures are valid and reliable in affluent democracies. Such scholars realize that a fixed bundle of goods or absolute threshold of well‐being cannot represent the complexity of poverty. Indeed, attempts to measure such absolute thresholds tend to be based on a series of dubious decisions. Thus, an absolute veneer is placed on top of a set of problematic indicators. Smeeding and his colleagues avoid an absolute measure because it “conveys an unwarranted objectivity.”52 Aldi Hagenaars contends that “the resulting estimates are not as absolute and objective as they are claimed to be.”53 Rainwater and Smeeding even go so far as to conclude “The more experience countries have with absolute poverty definitions, the more obvious becomes the absurdity of the rationale for them.”54

Nevertheless, proponents of absolute measures counter that it is valuable to tap into concepts of well‐being and basic needs. After all, if basic needs are unmet or well‐being is low—in terms or physiological subsistence and physical health— poverty is clearly present. For example, families that suffer from homelessness or hunger must obviously be poor. Some scholars provide (p.33) evidence of a historical decline in U.S. poverty based on measures of absolute consumption. While the argument is not new—economist Milton Friedman made

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 15 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

the argument in the 1960s, and many made it before him—a number of economists contend that that U.S. poor presently are more affluent than the middle class in previous decades.55

As popularized in W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm’s Myths of Rich and Poor, the U.S. poor consume like the middle class in previous generations, with access to refrigerators, televisions, cars, and indoor plumbing.56 If one concentrates on basic needs or well‐being, perhaps it is fair to say that poverty is not a serious problem in the contemporary United States.

On the surface, such absolute measures of consumption or well‐being are intriguing. But as one digs deeper, one finds a number of shaky assumptions and questionable decisions.57

The greatest concern is with how these measures conceptualize and measure poverty divorced from cultural and historical context. Absolute measures explicitly presume that being poor is the same thing in the United States in the 1950s or 1990s, the same thing in Spain as in Sweden, or even the same in Kenya as in Germany. Thus, in order to adopt an absolute measure, an analyst must assume that being poor is the same thing in all contexts.

Upon reflection, however, it is more reasonable to conclude that any definition of “need” is full of culturally and historically contextualized norms.58 It is quite unlikely that if one interviewed social scientists in each of these time periods and cultural contexts, there would be much agreement about the basic needs of people or what constitutes poverty. Patricia Ruggles has shown that consumption patterns have changed so dramatically over the past 40–50 years that agreeing on the basic needs of American families is actually quite difficult.59

Martin Ravallion notes that perceptions of “well‐being” depend on what is the comparison group and argues, “There is an inherent subjectivity and social specificity to any notion of ‘basic needs.’”60 Hagenaars points out that nutritionists cannot agree about levels of calories needed for various ages, sexes, occupations, and living conditions.61 Even U.S. policy makers have long conceded that as a society’s standard of living rises, more expensive consumption is forced on the poor to remain integrated into society.62 Peter Townsend concludes, “Any rigorous conceptualization of the social

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 16 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

determination of need dissolves the idea of ‘absolute’ need.”63

Therefore, attempts to come up with a list of basic needs that differentiate poor from nonpoor across all cultural and historical contexts have failed to stand up to scrutiny.

Just like the concept of need, the concept of well‐being has limitations as a way to define poverty. Sen has explained that one of the problems of absolute measures is that they conflate “poverty” and well‐being. He persuasively distinguishes between these two by pointing out that some people have low well‐being without being poor and some are poor without low well‐being. Poverty is better thought of as question of economic resources, whereas well‐being is an outcome that is often undermined by a shortage of economic (p.34) resources. As Sen emphasizes, “Poverty is not a matter of low well‐being, but of the inability to pursue well‐being precisely because of the lack of economic means.”64

Of course, most readers can probably agree that a desperate absolute level of deprivation does exist under which families are definitely poor. The problem is that it is nearly impossible to define a valid and reliable absolute standard above the most basic subsistence levels. Of course, people are poor if they are homeless or starving. But such a minimal standard sets the line so low that only a tiny share of the population would be “poor” in affluent democracies. Certainly, there is more to escaping poverty than simply avoiding starvation or meeting “basic needs.” When one tries to discern any absolute poverty definition above such minimal levels, it becomes problematic to distinguish poor from nonpoor. For these reasons, most international poverty researchers have abandoned absolute measures for developed countries.

Relative Measures

Relative measures specify poverty thresholds for each society at each point in time based on the distribution of economic resources within that context. Relative measures do not try to capture absolute deprivation, but instead embrace relative deprivation.65 As I explain below, the leading approach is to define relative poverty as those households with less than 50% of the median income. People below this culturally and historically specific threshold are considered too far down in

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 17 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

the queue for the scarce resource of income to be fully integrated into society.66 Hence, relative measures assess the difference in living conditions between the poor and the majority of society, or the difference between the poor and conventional customary standards for normal households. More specifically, relative measures have three major advantages.

First, relative measures are most compatible with the leading concepts of poverty as social exclusion and capability deprivation.67 In 1984, when the European Commission constructed measures of poverty, the Council of Ministers explicitly linked its measures to social exclusion by defining poverty as “persons whose resources are so limited to exclude them from the minimum acceptable way of life in the Member State in which they live.”68 The European Union’s statistical service, Eurostat, utilizes relative measures of poverty due to a theoretical interest in such concepts as social exclusion.69

Returning to Rawls, he offered the example that the “least fortunate group” could be defined as those with less than half of the median income and wealth. Rawls even suggested that this could form a meaningful poverty standard.70 Rawls certainly thought of his difference principle in terms of relative deprivation, writing that it implies a “social minimum [that] depends on the content of the public political culture.”71

This social minimum “is not given by the basic needs of human nature taken psychologically (p.35) (or biologically) apart

from any particular social world.”72 Throughout his writings, Rawls is concerned with equal citizenship and how it is threatened by inferiority and deference, inequalities, and social status.73 Although Sen argued that there was value in absolute poverty measures when studying developing countries, he was clear that poverty should be measured relatively in developed countries. Indeed, Sen stressed that the relatively poor in rich countries are capability deprived, even though they are well off compared with most of the people in the world. Sen explained, “Relative deprivation in terms of incomes can yield absolute deprivation in terms of capabilities.”74 Based on these theoretical ideas, international poverty scholars have critiqued absolute measures on the grounds that they are disconnected from key concepts like

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 18 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

social exclusion and capability deprivation. In sum, relative measures are superior because they better represent these leading conceptualizations of poverty.75

Second, relative measures have the virtue of being entirely grounded in national and historical context.76 Relative measures recognize that poverty must be meaningful according to each particular society’s cultural norms and customary, prevailing standards of necessities. It is worth noting that, while coming up with what became the official U.S. measure, Orshansky was actually concerned with “the relative well‐being of both individuals and the society in which they live” and what families need for “keeping with American consumption patterns.”77 In the classic The Other America, Harrington stressed that poverty should be gauged according to the living standards and historical conditions of the mainstream of contemporary society. In a telling passage that is worth revisiting, Harrington wrote:

Shall we say to them [the American poor] that they are better off than the Indian poor, the Italian poor, the Russian poor?…In the nineteenth century, conservatives in England used to argue against reform on the grounds that the British worker of the time had a longer life expectancy than a medieval nobleman…. Indeed, if one wanted to play with figures, it would be possible to prove that there are no poor people in the United States, or at least only a few whose plight is as desperate as that of the masses in Hong Kong. There is starvation in American society, but it is not a pervasive social problem as it is in some the newly independent nations. There are still Americans who literally die in the streets, but their numbers are comparatively small…. Those who suffer levels of life below those that are possible, even though they live better than the medieval knights or Asian peasants, are poor…. The American poor are not poor in Hong Kong or in the sixteenth century; they are poor here and now, in the United States. They are dispossessed in terms of what the rest of the nation enjoys…. To have one bowl of rice in a society where all other people have half a bowl may well be a sign of

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 19 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

achievement and intelligence; it may spur a person to act and to fulfill his human potential. To have five (p.36)

bowls of rice in a society where the majority have a decent, balanced diet is a tragedy.78

Thus, a relative measure advantageously focuses on one in comparison with or in relation to other members of the society in which he or she is a member. A person is considered poor compared with or in relation to the typical or average person in his or her society. In this sense, relative measures frame poverty as a social and, hence, sociological condition.79 As Townsend eloquently elaborates, “Man is not a Robinson Crusoe living on a desert island. He is a social animal entangled in a web of relationships at work and in family and community which exert complex and changing pressures to which he must respond, as much in his consumption of goods and services as in any other aspect of this behavior.”80

Because relative measures define deprivation in relation to other people within a social context, they are better suited to the previously mentioned need to be sensitive to the comparative historical context. Relatedly, it is valuable to point out that people actually think of their social context when asked to define poverty. For example, when asked in a survey how to define poverty, most people come up with a poverty threshold that is roughly equal to a common relative threshold: 50% of the median income.81 Moreover, the average person’s definition of “necessities” tends to rise with the social context as living standards rise.82

Third, relative measures enable social scientists to gain a better understanding of the consequences of poverty. One of the conclusions of the aforementioned NRC review was to propose a new official measure that was based upon the relative consumption of contemporary U.S. families. A number of studies have analyzed how this proposed relative measure would change our understanding of poverty. This work has shown that historical trends in U.S. poverty would have been significantly different, poverty rates would have been considerably higher, and there would actually be smaller differences in poverty between some demographic groups (e.g., children vs. the elderly). Most important, Carolyn Hill

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 20 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

and Robert Michael demonstrate that the NRC measure has much greater predictive validity than does the official measure. The NRC alternative better predicts a number of children’s outcomes that should be affected by poverty: school grades and suspensions, achievement test scores, expectations of completing college, and avoiding pregnancy.83 Thus, when we consider how child poverty matters to public policy and aspects of children’s well‐being, scholars have found that relative deprivation is most important.84 In a different but equally informative literature, Michael Marmot documents in The Status Syndrome that relative, not absolute poverty, is more consequential for health in affluent democracies.85

Although absolute deprivation matters to a point, once countries are developed, relative deprivation becomes the more salient predictor of well‐being.

In sum, relative measures have three principal advantages over absolute measures. First, relative measures are much more consistent with the concepts of social exclusion and capability deprivation. Second, relative (p.37) measures are grounded in cultural and historical context and thus emphasize the social relations among people. Third, relative measures are more useful for understanding the consequences of poverty. After a great deal of debate on the topic, most international poverty researchers now agree that a relative measure of poverty is most useful for affluent democracies.

Taxes, Transfers, and the State

A great deal of research has tried to untangle how taxes and government benefits, what are called “transfers,” shape people’s income. One of the most persuasive critiques of the U.S. measure of poverty is that it is mostly based on pretax income and inconsistently neglects cash transfers and in‐kind benefits. Of course, taxes and transfers significantly affect a household’s finances. In fact, the deteriorating value of transfers may have contributed to the worsening of child poverty in recent decades in the United States.86 Further, taxes on U.S. poor families have risen since the 1960s, and in turn, their actual financial standing may be weaker than that of families with similar incomes in earlier decades. This neglect of taxes and transfers in calculating income violates

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 21 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

Sen’s Transfer axiom: “Given other things, a pure transfer of income from a person below the poverty line to anyone who is richer must increase the poverty measure.”87 To accurately estimate a household’s economic resources and, in turn, accurately estimate poverty, it is essential to incorporate taxes and transfers.

Calculating the exact impact of taxes and transfers on household income and poverty levels is a formidable task. Though taxes and transfers typically are financial, in‐kind and near‐cash benefits like housing assistance and food stamps are important, too. Ignoring these benefits biases our estimates of the distribution of economic resources between households and leads to a misleading picture about the relative standing of various types of households.88 The Luxembourg Income Study has been the leader in calculating the most comprehensive definitions of household income by incorporating taxes and transfers. Tim Smeeding and colleagues have assessed the value of taxes, transfers, and a variety of near‐cash benefits and translated those values into the estimate of household income. It is important to keep in mind that benefits accrue from both the private and the public sector. Although public benefits probably have a bigger impact, private pensions, rental income, self‐employment earnings, and other private compensation matter as well. There are national differences in the different kinds of benefits, and private and public taxes and transfers should always be incorporated when calculating a household’s income.

One common strategy used to untangle the consequences of taxes and transfers for household income has been to calculate the distribution of economic resources before taxes and transfers (what is called “pre‐fisc”). (p.38) The conventional approach is to estimate a household’s income while adding back the value of taxes paid and subtracting the value of transfers. This is supposed to simulate what income would look like before taxes and transfers. This simulated counterfactual might appear useful when analyzing individual employed adults. Because the majority of their income comes from labor market earnings, perhaps it is not unreasonable to

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 22 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

estimate what a working adult’s pre‐fisc income might have been. Many analysts have extended this logic to calculate pre‐ fisc poverty rates or pre‐fisc inequality levels for the entire population. Pre‐fisc is supposed to represent the private sector or labor market earnings. By contrast, “post‐fisc,” which measures household income after subtracting taxes and adding transfers, is supposed to incorporate the state. Indeed, it has become conventional to estimate pre‐fisc and post‐fisc poverty or inequality and then take the rate of change between the two and call that “redistribution.”89 Despite its widespread use, there are serious micro‐level and macro‐level problems with this approach.

On a micro level, pre‐fisc has no meaning for much of the nonemployed population. The elderly, for example, usually have little pre‐fisc income because they often rely on public pensions. Even with working adults, an estimate of pre‐fisc income does not truly gauge private economic resources. In every labor market, an adult has gained greatly from state investment. Human capital, an essential factor behind any labor market earnings, is shaped deeply by state involvement in all societies. Public primary and secondary education clearly affects private labor market earnings, and owners and managers profit from this public sector investment. But those with higher education have also benefited from government investment in universities—directly in the form of subsidized or free education and/or state‐subsidized loans and grants, and indirectly via the enormous amount of money collected by universities from government grants and contracts. Also, vast numbers of working adults are employed in public‐sector jobs or at private‐sector employers who have government grants and contracts. Yet, pre‐fisc would have us act as if these earnings were independent of the state. In reality, no household exists in, and there is no such thing as, a pretax and pretransfer world. Thus, it is disingenuous to simulate what income would be “before the state.” Even a working adult’s income cannot be separated from state involvement since the state permeates and shapes every individual’s labor market opportunities.

On a macro level, it is unrealistic to reify these simulations of individual pre‐fisc income into national‐level estimates of

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 23 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

poverty, inequality, and redistribution. One of the emerging conclusions of economic sociology is that states and markets inherently constitute each other.90 States are always involved in the allocation of economic resources to workers, managers, and especially owners. States do not simply respond to what markets have initiated; states define and constitute markets. The state is heavily involved in the operation of markets by setting rules on how goods and services are bought and sold, by setting standards for labor and production, by defining

(p.39) who and what has property rights, by funding the infrastructure on which markets unfold, and by backing the currencies and credit that make exchange possible. The private sector always benefits from some state influence—even if just by protecting property rights. All of these state interventions are central for markets to even happen, and the distribution of income that results from a market cannot be said to be independent of the state. As Erik Wright articulately explains, “It is therefore misleading to talk about a clear distinction between pure ‘distribution’ of income and a process of politically shaped ‘redistribution.’”91 Since the state is always involved in the market, there really is no such thing as income before the state. One can also point out that the historical record shows that most markets did not exist prior to the state, because the process of market formation requires state formation.92 Thus, it is artificial to define taxes and transfers as “re”‐distribution, and it is not realistic to calculate what the income distribution would be “before” the state.

Confirming these theoretical arguments, Andreas Bergh has recently convincingly demonstrated that pre‐fisc estimates are deeply problematic.93 These estimates are biased by the fact that state taxes and transfers actually do affect how much people earn and whether people work, retire, or leave the labor force to care for family. Bergh demonstrates specifically how (1) welfare states redistribute both between individuals and over the life cycle, (2) pre‐fisc incomes actually depend upon and are shaped by taxes and transfers, (3) pre‐fisc estimates incorrectly describe the redistributive effect of social insurance that crowds out market insurance, and (4) welfare states influence the distribution of earnings through education. People consider their expected taxes and transfers

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 24 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

when making decisions about labor market behavior, and this biases pre‐fisc estimates. Imagine the typical wealthy person in the United States. This person undoubtedly has an accountant whose job is to identify ways to maximize income by avoiding taxes and collecting transfers. In turn, this person’s supposedly pre‐fisc income is actually strategically dependent on taxes and transfers. Precisely because people are influenced by the state when earning income, a person’s pre‐fisc income is not severable from taxes and transfers. Thus, we cannot accurately estimate the income distribution as if the state does not exist.

As a final illustration of the problems of pre‐fisc estimates, consider the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in the United States. Because the EITC is a tax refund, and pre‐fisc is a simulation of one’s income excluding all taxes paid and transfers received, studies treat the EITC in confusing, contradictory, and inconsistent ways. The EITC mostly refunds labor market earnings that were taxed. So, it is pre‐fisc income, but it is also “post‐fisc” because the state gives it back at the end of the year after receiving some paperwork. Also, there is a transfer component of the EITC because it gives more to the bottom of the earnings distribution. Certainly, the majority of EITC recipients are aware of it, and probably factor it into their labor market behavior. For example, the EITC creates an incentive to increase “pre‐fisc” earnings, because the EITC (p.40) requires people to work to gain benefits. Pre‐fisc income may be underestimated because people are being taxed, and alternatively, redistribution might be overestimated because they are mostly just getting those pre‐fisc earnings back. Very small in previous decades, the EITC has grown into the largest family assistance program in the United States (much larger than TANF). As a result, ignoring the EITC severely undermines reliable comparisons of pre‐fisc income or redistribution over time. Because the United States heavily relies on the EITC to alleviate poverty whereas most other affluent democracies rely more on transfers, international comparisons of pre‐fisc income or redistribution are probably not trustworthy.

The poor, like everyone, live with the benefits and constraints of state involvement. People live in a posttax and posttransfer

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 25 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

world. In order to effectively measure the economic resources of households, it is essential to incorporate taxes and transfers as comprehensively as possible. As a result, poverty scholars should focus on poverty after taxes and transfers.94

The Depth of Poverty

One of the pioneering innovations in poverty measurement was Sen’s ordinal measure of poverty.95 Indeed, Sen’s contribution was so important that Hagenaars referred to it as the “ordinalist revolution.”96 Sen’s contribution can best be explained by considering a series of measures that build on each other. Table 2.1 displays the definitions and the advantages and disadvantages of each of these measures. All of these measures can be defined relatively.

Poverty is measured commonly with the headcount, the percentage of the population that is below a certain threshold of income. The headcount is a binary measure of poverty, offering an either/or account of who is denied the basic minimum rights of citizenship, social inclusion, or capability. The headcount is usefully simple, providing an easy‐to‐ interpret and commonsense rate of poverty. It allows one to describe what percentage of people are poor and how that rate has changed over time or differs across countries. Thus, the headcount is a standard way to measure and think about poverty. Nevertheless, the headcount has received some criticism.97

Sen calls the headcount “crude” because it ignores the income distribution among the poor and contains no information on the depth of poverty. Using the headcount, we treat all poor below the threshold as equal regardless of how deeply in poverty different people are. Sen articulated this criticism of the headcount as the “monotonicity axiom: given other things, a reduction in income of a person below the line must increase the poverty measure.”98 This axiom can be explained best by way of example. Societies A and B, with equal rates of poverty with the headcount, would be considered equivalent. However, while the poor in A may cluster close to the threshold, the poor in B may cluster close to zero income. The headcount would be (p.41)

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 26 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

Table 2.1. Alternative Poverty Measures Emerging From the Ordinalist Revolution

Definition Advantages Disadvantages

Headcount Percent population below 50% of median income

Simple, dichotomous measure of the percentage of the population who are poor

Ignores the depth of poverty among the poor

Income gap Difference between population’s median income and mean income of poor, standardized by the population’s median income

Continuous variable of the average depth of poverty among the poor

Ignores the quantity of poor people

Intensity Product of Headcount and Income Gap

Simple, parsimonious measure combining quantity and depth of poverty

Does not weight index with the distribution of income of the poor

Ordinal Intensity × (1 + coefficient of variation)

Weights measure so the deeply poor have more impact than the barely poor

May add unimportant information or unneeded complexity

unable to detect this difference in depth. Further, if the income distributions in A and B were identical at one point in time, the

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 27 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

headcount would be unable to detect if the poor in A suffered severe income loss and fell to zero income while the poor in B were unchanged. Relatedly, one salient critique of the official U.S. measure—which is a headcount measure—is that it underestimates the positive impact of welfare programs.99 Welfare programs might make families less poor without necessarily lifting them above the poverty threshold. Changes in headcount poverty rates would also understate the effect of welfare when cutbacks lead to already‐poor families becoming even poorer. In short, welfare could be quite effective at reducing poverty without having an effect on the headcount. Though it is still useful for describing the proportion of the population that is socially excluded or the rate of capability deprivation, the headcount is considered imperfect because it ignores the depth of poverty. To address these concerns, one should estimate the depth of poverty among the poor. Usually, the depth is measured as the difference between the poor’s average income and either the poverty threshold or the median of the entire income distribution. This average deprivation, the income gap, is then standardized by the median income or poverty threshold to render it comparable across populations. By considering the income gap, rather than (p.42) simply the headcount, scholars more realistically capture the continuous quality of poverty. In reality, poverty is not a discrete condition that is immediately acquired or shed by crossing a particular line. Rather, poverty is an interval variable, because the desperately poor with no income are worse off than the poor just below the poverty threshold. Sometimes poverty researchers address this concern by calculating the “income to needs ratio” as a household’s income divided by the poverty line.

Still, though, the income gap is imperfect as well. While the headcount tells us the percentage of the population that is poor, it is insensitive to the depth of poverty. While the income gap tells us the depth of poverty of this subpopulation, it is insensitive to how many are poor. One solution is to simply calculate the product of the headcount and the income gap. The prevailing name for this product is poverty intensity.100

Both the headcount and income gap are valuable because neither by itself tells the whole story about poverty intensity.

In addition to addressing the limitations of the headcount, a poverty intensity measure has the advantage of being less

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 28 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

sensitive to the business cycle. When the economy grows, the median income is likely to increase (though this is often not the case—e.g., recent U.S. history). If the poverty threshold is 50% of the median income, that threshold will often rise and the number of poor will automatically increase. At the same time, households with the same income will mechanically move from nonpoor to poor. This has been one of the more common criticisms of relative measures. Fortunately, poverty intensity is far less sensitive to movements in the median income and threshold since newly and barely poor households would have a very small poverty gap. Such households would reduce the income gap, so although the headcount would increase, intensity would increase only minutely.

At this stage, Sen made his key contribution. He imposed axiom R, that the poverty gap should be weighted to correspond to the rank order in the interpersonal welfare ordering of the poor.101 Basically, Sen argued that intensity should be weighted such that the poorest of the poor had more influence on the index. In practice, intensity should have a weight attached for the income inequality among the poor. Doing so augments the intensity measure into what he called the ordinal measure of poverty. The ordinal measure simply takes the intensity measure and multiplies it by a factor of the inequality among the poor.102 Additionally, the ordinal measure is easily decomposed into three parts—the headcount, the income gap, and inequality among the poor— and each can be analyzed separately to understand their specific influence.103

Sen’s contribution provoked a lot of research. In addition to the headcount, scholars began to use more sophisticated measures, including the income gap, intensity, and ordinal measures. As table 2.1 displays, each measure has advantages and disadvantages. If one wants a rate of poverty and does not care about the depth of poverty, the headcount remains useful. By itself, the income gap is normally less useful since it is insensitive to how (p.43) many people are poor. If an analyst seeks a parsimonious measure that incorporates both the quantity and depth of poverty, intensity is preferred. By contrast, if one decides that the deeply poor should

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 29 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

disproportionately affect the index, the ordinal measure should be used.

Even while appreciating Sen’s contribution, many have become skeptical of the ordinal measure. Unlike intensity, the ordinal measure reflects a rather strong judgment that the deeply poor are more important than those near the threshold. Not everyone agrees with this judgment. Additionally, studies have recently shown that most of the variation in the ordinal measure is captured by the poverty intensity measure.104

There is little real‐world difference in patterns of poverty if one uses the ordinal or intensity measure. Also, most of the time, we do not have sufficiently good data at the very bottom of the income distribution, which is key to estimating the inequality among the poor, so it becomes harder to trust estimates of ordinal poverty. Thus, the ordinal measure often adds unneeded and unimportant complexity and may actually obscure international comparisons.105 Ultimately, if one seeks a sufficient yet parsimonious measure and prefers to avoid the complexity and assumptions of the ordinal measure, intensity may be preferable. Prompted by the empirical patterns in my and others’ research, it is probably sufficient to evaluate the headcount and intensity, thus omitting the ordinal measure from this book. While it is essential to consider the depth of poverty and to examine intensity along with the headcount, the ordinal measure may be unnecessary.

Conclusion

This chapter aimed to advance theoretically and conceptually how the social sciences measure poverty. Unfortunately, much of U.S. social science, and especially U.S. sociology, still relies on the official measure despite its overwhelming methodological problems. These problems almost certainly limit social science’s contribution to understanding the causes and effects of poverty. As an alternative, this chapter synthesizes a number of advances in the conceptualization and operationalization of poverty. The end result is a set of criteria for better measuring poverty. To summarize, this chapter has provided five criteria for the measurement of poverty, as summarized in table 2.2. Each of these criteria emerges from an existing theoretical literature that

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 30 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

Table 2.2. Criteria for Measures of Poverty

1. Measure comparative historical variation

2. Conceptualize poverty as social exclusion and capability deprivation

3. Be relative rather than absolute

4. Assess the impact of taxes, transfers, and state benefits

5. Integrate the depth of poverty

(p.44) has established its relevance to poverty measurement. Driven by these criteria, poverty analysts should focus on the headcount and poverty intensity measures. In chapter 3, I put these theoretical and methodological advances to work. In particular, I explore the empirical patterns in poverty across and within affluent democracies with these measures. Now that the conceptual foundations have been laid for how to measure poverty, we can assess different dimensions of poverty as they actually exist. By integrating these conceptual advances with empirical data, one can gain a better and more complete understanding of poverty in modern societies.

Notes:

(1.) See Grusky and Kanbur (2006).

(2.) Hagenaars (1991: 134).

(3.) Betson and Warlick (1998); Hill and Michael (2001); Uchitelle (1999).

(4.) In another study (Brady 2003a), I showed that about two‐ thirds of sociological studies published between 1990 and 2000 used the official measure. Though a similar content analysis for economic and public policy journals has not been done, the proportion is probably comparable or even higher.

(5.) Betson and Warlick (1998: 351).

(6.) Wilson (1991: 3, 2).

(7.) The report was edited by Citro and Michael (1995: xvi).

(8.) Katz (1989: 115–117); O’Connor (2001); Wilson (1991).

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 31 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

(9.) Orshansky (1965).

(10.) Stone (2002).

(11.) As early as 1970, Orshansky (see Orshansky 1976: 236) wrote in a “Memorandum for Daniel P. Moynihan on the ‘History of the Poverty Line’” that “This meant, of course, that the food‐income relationship which was the basis for the original poverty measure no longer was the current rationale.” She also wrote: “By the end of 1967, there was increasing awareness that the poverty line was lagging behind the general rise in standard of living enjoyed by the majority… [and] did not measure accurately the total price rise facing the poor.”

(12.) Katz (1989: 115–117); O’Connor (2001); see also Betson and Warlick (1998).

(13.) See Orshansky (1976); Stone (2002).

(14.) Orshansky wrote this in a 1969 Social Security Bulletin article (see Orshansky 1976: 245).

(15.) Betson and Warlick (1998); Blank (1997); Citro and Michael (1995).

(16.) As mentioned above, Orshansky (1976) identified most of the problems in this paragraph as early as the late 1960s. See also Ruggles (1990); Foster (1998); Citro and Michael (1995).

(17.) Sen (1976) would call this a violation of the “transfer axiom.”

(18.) Ruggles (1990); Smeeding et al. (2001).

(19.) Betson and Warlick (1998); Citro and Michael (1995); Lichter (1997).

(20.) Blank (1997).

(21.) Smeeding et al. (1993: 247).

(22.) Atkinson (1998a); Cantillion (1997).

(23.) Atkinson (1990, 1998a); Hagenaars (1991).

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 32 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

(24.) Betson and Warlick (1998); Jorgenson (1998).

(25.) Hills (2004); Ormerod (1998); Paugam (1998); Procacci (1998); Wacquant (1995).

(26.) Silver (1994, 1995).

(27.) Cantillion (1997: 130).

(28.) Schuyt and Tan (1998: 14).

(29.) Dahrendorf (1990: 151).

(30.) Engbersen (1991).

(31.) Gore (1995).

(32.) Harrington (1981: 11).

(33.) Rankin and Quane (2000); Wilson (1991).

(34.) Galbraith (1998: 235).

(35.) Despite his influence on poverty and inequality debates (see Sen 1992), Rawls (1999) made very few overt references to poverty. Atkinson (1987: 760) notes that the word “poverty” does not even appear in Rawls’s (1999) extensive index. He discusses poverty a bit more later (e.g., Rawls 2001), but mainly one needs to rely on his discussion of economic inequality.

(36.) Rawls (2001: 130).

(37.) Rawls (2001: 129).

(38.) Atkinson (1987).

(39.) Nussbaum (2006); Sen (1992, 1999).

(40.) Nussbaum (2006: 49).

(41.) Rawls (1999); see also Atkinson (1987).

(42.) Barry (1973, 1998).

(43.) Rainwater and Smeeding (2004: 10).

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 33 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

(44.) Atkinson (1998a: 27).

(45.) Barry (1998: 22).

(46.) Cantillion (1997: 131).

(47.) Atkinson (1998b: 20).

(48.) Gore (1995); Rodgers (1995); Sen (1992).

(49.) Madden (2000); Sen (1983); Shanahan and Tuma (1994).

(50.) Atkinson (1998a); Hagenaars (1991); Madden (2000); Sen (1992).

(51.) Sen (1992, 1999).

(52.) Smeeding et al. (1993: 246).

(53.) Hagenaars (1991: 146).

(54.) Rainwater and Smeeding (2004: 9).

(55.) Jorgenson (1998).

(56.) Cox and Alm (1999).

(57.) For specific methodological critiques, see Hagenaars (1991), Lichter (1997), and Triest (1998).

(58.) Harrington (1981: 188).

(59.) Ruggles (1990).

(60.) Ravallion (1998: 21).

(61.) Hagenaars (1991: 141).

(62.) President’s Commission on Income Maintenance Programs (1969).

(63.) Townsend (1980: 300).

(64.) Sen (1992: 110).

(65.) Stewart (2006).

(66.) Shanahan and Tuma (1994).

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 34 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

(67.) Barry (1998); Gore (1995).

(68.) Atkinson (1998a: 2).

(69.) Rainwater and Smeeding (2004); Silver (1994).

(70.) Rawls (1999: 84).

(71.) Rawls (2001: 132).

(72.) Rawls (2001: 132; emphasis added).

(73.) One could use Rawls’s maximin criterion to argue that he endorsed absolute measures of poverty. But Rawls (e.g., 1999: 68) wrote much about how justice depends on democratic equality and that this was compromised by large differences between classes. For example, Rawls (2001: 131) wrote,

Significant political and economic inequalities are often associated with inequalities of social status that encourage those of lower status to be viewed both by themselves and by others as inferior…. It is close to being wrong or unjust in itself that in a status system, not everyone can have the highest rank. Status is a positional good, as is sometimes said. High status assumes other positions beneath it; so if we seek a higher status for ourselves, we in effect support a scheme that entails others’ having a lower status.

(74.) Sen (1999: 89; emphasis original).

(75.) Atkinson (1998b).

(76.) Townsend (1980); Sen (1976).

(77.) Orshansky (1976: 234, 233; emphasis added).

(78.) Harrington (1981: 18, 187–188).

(79.) An odd irony is that U.S. sociologists, who should have a commitment to relational measures like relative poverty, have actually been slower to take up relative measures and abandon the official U.S. measure (compared to international poverty research generally).

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 35 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

(80.) Townsend (1962: 219).

(81.) Hills (2004); Rainwater and Smeeding (2004).

(82.) Hills (2004).

(83.) Hill and Michael (2001); Betson and Warlick (1998); Triest (1998).

(84.) See, for example, Stewart (2006). Lichter (1997: 130) explains,

Absolute increases in child poverty are arguably less important than several other dimensions of the current poverty problem…. Today’s poverty among children must be judged against the living conditions and consumption levels of society as a whole and other advantaged groups —current and past. It is with regard to this relative dimension that implies increasing social and cultural differentiation in the future as the current generation of poor children enters adulthood.

(85.) Marmot (2004).

(86.) Lichter (1997).

(87.) Sen (1976: 219).

(88.) Smeeding et al. (1993).

(89.) See, for example, Beramendi and Anderson (2008); Bradley et al. (2003); Iversen and Soskice (2006); Korpi and Palme (2003); Mahler et al. (1999).

(90.) Esping‐Andersen (1990; 2003: 65); Fligstein (2001).

(91.) Wright (2004: 3–4).

(92.) Fligstein (2001).

(93.) Bergh (2005).

(94.) In other research (Brady 2003a), I have shown that there is much more empirical variation in post‐fisc than in pre‐fisc poverty, and it is this crucial societal variation that needs

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 36 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

explanation. Further, societal patterns in pre‐fisc and post‐fisc poverty are simply not empirically associated in a way that suggests the relevance of pre‐fisc poverty. If pre‐fisc poverty is a real problem, it should be very positively associated with what we know is a real problem: post‐fisc poverty. Yet, the correlation is quite weak and is often negative.

(95.) Sen (1976).

(96.) Hagenaars (1991).

(97.) Atkinson (1987).

(98.) Sen (1976: 219).

(99.) Blank (1997: 139).

(100.) Osberg and Xu (2000). Because it treats poverty as continuous, unlike the dichotomous headcount, I have previously called poverty intensity the “interval measure” (to differentiate it from Sen’s “ordinal measure”). However, it is easier to simply use the prevailing label.

(101.) Foster et al. (1984); Sen (1976).

(102.) In the ordinal measure, the Gini index is often used instead of the coefficient of variation. However, research on inequality demonstrates that the Gini index can be replaced with the simpler coefficient of variation (CV), which is substantively identical and easier to compute (Allison 1978). While more mathematically complicated formulas exist, several scholars have demonstrated that the ordinal measure can be reduced this way (Myles and Picot 2000; Osberg and Xu 2000).

(103.) Foster et al. (1984). In Brady (2003a), I discussed the sum of ordinals measure of poverty (SO). SO is simply the sum of headcounts for various descending thresholds, and thus builds on relational distribution measures of inequality (Handcock and Morris 1999). For example, I calculated the headcounts for 60%, 50%, 40%, 30%, 20%, 10%, and 5% of the median income and summed the values. This SO measure mimics the properties of poverty intensity and can be easily

Rethinking the Measurement of Poverty

Page 37 of 37

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: UC – Irvine; date: 09 December 2016

converted to something similar to the ordinal measure by weighting the lower thresholds (5%, 10%, and 20%) more heavily. While useful for graphically displaying the patterns in poverty, SO probably offers little beyond the intensity and ordinal measures. Thus, I do not discuss SO further in this book.

(104.) Brady (2003a).

(105.) Atkinson (1987); Hagenaars (1991); Myles and Picot (2000); Osberg and Xu (2000).

Access brought to you by: UC – Irvine

 


Get Professional Assignment Help Cheaply

Buy Custom Essay

Are you busy and do not have time to handle your assignment? Are you scared that your paper will not make the grade? Do you have responsibilities that may hinder you from turning in your assignment on time? Are you tired and can barely handle your assignment? Are your grades inconsistent?

Whichever your reason is, it is valid! You can get professional academic help from our service at affordable rates. We have a team of professional academic writers who can handle all your assignments.

Why Choose Our Academic Writing Service?

  • Plagiarism free papers
  • Timely delivery
  • Any deadline
  • Skilled, Experienced Native English Writers
  • Subject-relevant academic writer
  • Adherence to paper instructions
  • Ability to tackle bulk assignments
  • Reasonable prices
  • 24/7 Customer Support
  • Get superb grades consistently

Online Academic Help With Different Subjects

Literature

Students barely have time to read. We got you! Have your literature essay or book review written without having the hassle of reading the book. You can get your literature paper custom-written for you by our literature specialists.

Finance

Do you struggle with finance? No need to torture yourself if finance is not your cup of tea. You can order your finance paper from our academic writing service and get 100% original work from competent finance experts.

Computer science

Computer science is a tough subject. Fortunately, our computer science experts are up to the match. No need to stress and have sleepless nights. Our academic writers will tackle all your computer science assignments and deliver them on time. Let us handle all your python, java, ruby, JavaScript, php , C+ assignments!

Psychology

While psychology may be an interesting subject, you may lack sufficient time to handle your assignments. Don’t despair; by using our academic writing service, you can be assured of perfect grades. Moreover, your grades will be consistent.

Engineering

Engineering is quite a demanding subject. Students face a lot of pressure and barely have enough time to do what they love to do. Our academic writing service got you covered! Our engineering specialists follow the paper instructions and ensure timely delivery of the paper.

Nursing

In the nursing course, you may have difficulties with literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, critical essays, and other assignments. Our nursing assignment writers will offer you professional nursing paper help at low prices.

Sociology

Truth be told, sociology papers can be quite exhausting. Our academic writing service relieves you of fatigue, pressure, and stress. You can relax and have peace of mind as our academic writers handle your sociology assignment.

Business

We take pride in having some of the best business writers in the industry. Our business writers have a lot of experience in the field. They are reliable, and you can be assured of a high-grade paper. They are able to handle business papers of any subject, length, deadline, and difficulty!

Statistics

We boast of having some of the most experienced statistics experts in the industry. Our statistics experts have diverse skills, expertise, and knowledge to handle any kind of assignment. They have access to all kinds of software to get your assignment done.

Law

Writing a law essay may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, especially when you need to know the peculiarities of the legislative framework. Take advantage of our top-notch law specialists and get superb grades and 100% satisfaction.

What discipline/subjects do you deal in?

We have highlighted some of the most popular subjects we handle above. Those are just a tip of the iceberg. We deal in all academic disciplines since our writers are as diverse. They have been drawn from across all disciplines, and orders are assigned to those writers believed to be the best in the field. In a nutshell, there is no task we cannot handle; all you need to do is place your order with us. As long as your instructions are clear, just trust we shall deliver irrespective of the discipline.

Are your writers competent enough to handle my paper?

Our essay writers are graduates with bachelor's, masters, Ph.D., and doctorate degrees in various subjects. The minimum requirement to be an essay writer with our essay writing service is to have a college degree. All our academic writers have a minimum of two years of academic writing. We have a stringent recruitment process to ensure that we get only the most competent essay writers in the industry. We also ensure that the writers are handsomely compensated for their value. The majority of our writers are native English speakers. As such, the fluency of language and grammar is impeccable.

What if I don’t like the paper?

There is a very low likelihood that you won’t like the paper.

Reasons being:

  • When assigning your order, we match the paper’s discipline with the writer’s field/specialization. Since all our writers are graduates, we match the paper’s subject with the field the writer studied. For instance, if it’s a nursing paper, only a nursing graduate and writer will handle it. Furthermore, all our writers have academic writing experience and top-notch research skills.
  • We have a quality assurance that reviews the paper before it gets to you. As such, we ensure that you get a paper that meets the required standard and will most definitely make the grade.

In the event that you don’t like your paper:

  • The writer will revise the paper up to your pleasing. You have unlimited revisions. You simply need to highlight what specifically you don’t like about the paper, and the writer will make the amendments. The paper will be revised until you are satisfied. Revisions are free of charge
  • We will have a different writer write the paper from scratch.
  • Last resort, if the above does not work, we will refund your money.

Will the professor find out I didn’t write the paper myself?

Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.

What if the paper is plagiarized?

We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment Help Service Works

1. Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2. Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3. Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4. Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

smile and order essay GET A PERFECT SCORE!!! smile and order essay Buy Custom Essay