Poverty and the Incidence of Material Hardship, Revisited

John Iceland , Pennsylvania State University
Claire Kovach, Pennsylvania State University

The last two decades have seen little decline in the incidence of poverty in the United States. Much less is known about trends in material hardships, which are intrinsically important outcomes. Using data from the 1992-2011 Survey of Income and Program Participation, we examine seven types of material hardship (food, housing, neighborhood, bill paying, health, fear of crime, lack of consumer durables) and how their incidence by poverty status changed. We find declines in four of the seven hardships, with little change or moderate increases for the others. Hardships that are more sensitive to short-term income fluctuations declined by less (or increased), suggesting that income volatility imposes important challenges for many households. Of key interest, declines in hardship were evident across all measures among the lowest-income groups over the period. This may result from a greater under-reporting of income over time and/or that family resources are not comprehensively counted in the official poverty measure.

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 Presented in Session 193. Measuring Poverty