by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Whether poverty has risen or fallen over time is a key barometer of societal progress. Between 1970 and 2020, the official poverty rate in the United States fell by just 1.2 percentage points (9.5 percent), suggesting limited economic gains for the disadvantaged despite large investments in anti‐poverty programs. In contrast, several recent studies have found much larger declines in poverty. These studies rely on broader resource measures and/or correct for some of the bias in inflation measures when updating poverty thresholds. However, these estimates of changes in poverty over time continue to rely on surveys that suffer from substantial and growing income misreporting, leaving uncertain the true decline in poverty in the United States over time.
Our research is the first to use comprehensive income data to examine changes in poverty over time in the United States. … We focused on individuals in single‐parent families in 1995 and 2016, providing a two‐decade‐plus assessment of the change in poverty for this policy‐relevant subpopulation. …
… We find that single‐parent‐family poverty, after accounting for taxes and nonmedical in‐kind transfers, declined by 62 percent between 1995 and 2016 using the CID. In contrast, it fell by only 45 percent using survey data alone. Moreover, while survey‐reported deep poverty among single‐parent families increased over this time period, linked survey and administrative data reveal that this misleading result is due to declining survey quality. Linked CID data show that deep poverty decreased between 1995 and 2016. Our research builds on previous efforts to use linked survey and administrative data to improve our understanding of poverty, economic well‐being, and the effects of government programs at a point in time.
It is worth noting caveats to our estimates that, on net, have likely understated the true decline in single‐parent poverty over time.