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Self-reliance and Poverty, Net Earnings Capacity versus: Income for Measuring Poverty


  • Robert Haveman
  • Andrew Bershadker


The official U.S. poverty measure defines the poor in terms of a family's actual, yearly cash income relative to an estimate of the income needed to sustain a minimally acceptable standard of living. An alternative definition, designed to reflect a family's ability to achieve economic independence, would instead rest on its capacity for generating income. Net earnings capacity (NEC) is an indicator of the income a family could earn if all working-age family members work full-time, full-year at earnings consistent with their age, education, and other characteristics, with an adjustment made for child care costs. NEC is not intended as a replacement for the official measure, but as a supplement. The official measure identifies the population in need of short-term monetary assistance, whereas NEC identifies the population in need of longer-term skill-enhancing assistance in order to become self-reliant. Two general policy approaches to reduce the prevalence of NEC poverty are to increase the level of education and other income-generating characteristics of those with low earnings capacity and to increase the returns they receive for work.

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  • Robert Haveman & Andrew Bershadker, "undated". "Self-reliance and Poverty, Net Earnings Capacity versus: Income for Measuring Poverty," Economics Public Policy Brief Archive ppb_46, Levy Economics Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:lev:levppb:ppb_46

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chinhui Juhn, 1992. "Decline of Male Labor Market Participation: The Role of Declining Market Opportunities," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 79-121.
    2. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M & Pierce, Brooks, 1993. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 410-442, June.
    3. Christopher Jencks & Susan E. Mayer, "undated". "Do Official Poverty Rates Provide Useful Information about Trends in Children's Economic Welfare?," IPR working papers 96-1, Institute for Policy Resarch at Northwestern University.
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