IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Further Results on Measuring the Well-Being of the Poor Using Income and Consumption


  • Bruce D. Meyer
  • James X. Sullivan


In the U.S., analyses of poverty rates and the effects of anti-poverty programs rely almost exclusively on income data. In earlier work (Meyer and Sullivan, 2003) we emphasized that conceptual arguments generally favor using consumption data to measure the well-being of the poor, and, on balance, data quality issues favor consumption in the case of single mothers. Our earlier work did not show that income and consumption differ in practice. Here we further examine data quality issues and show that important conclusions about recent trends depend on whether one uses consumption or income. Changes in the distribution of resources for single mothers differ sharply in recent years depending on whether measured by income or consumption. Measures of overall and sub-group poverty also sharply differ. In addition to examining broader populations and a longer time period, we also consider new dimensions of data quality such as survey and item nonresponse, imputation, and precision. Finally, we demonstrate the flaws in a recent paper that compares income and consumption data.

Suggested Citation

  • Bruce D. Meyer & James X. Sullivan, 2007. "Further Results on Measuring the Well-Being of the Poor Using Income and Consumption," NBER Working Papers 13413, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13413
    Note: LS PE

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Martin Browning & Thomas F. Crossley & Guglielmo Weber, 2003. "Asking consumption questions in general purpose surveys," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 113(491), pages 540-567, November.
    2. Bruce D. Meyer & Dan T. Rosenbaum, 2001. "Welfare, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Labor Supply of Single Mothers," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(3), pages 1063-1114.
    3. Sawhill, Isabel V, 1988. "Poverty in the U.S.: Why Is It So Persistent?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 1073-1119, September.
    4. Jonathan Gruber, 1994. "The Consumption Smoothing Benefits of Unemployment Insurance," NBER Working Papers 4750, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Dirk Krueger & Fabrizio Perri, 2006. "Does Income Inequality Lead to Consumption Inequality? Evidence and Theory -super-1," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(1), pages 163-193.
    6. David M. Cutler & Lawrence F. Katz, 1991. "Macroeconomic Performance and the Disadvantaged," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 22(2), pages 1-74.
    7. Kasia O'Neill Murray & Wendell E. Primus, 2005. "Recent Data Trends Show Welfare Reform to Be a Mixed Success: Significant Policy Changes Should Accompany Reauthorization," Review of Policy Research, Policy Studies Organization, vol. 22(3), pages 301-324, May.
    8. Gruber, Jonathan, 1997. "The Consumption Smoothing Benefits of Unemployment Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(1), pages 192-205, March.
    9. Slesnick, Daniel T, 1993. "Gaining Ground: Poverty in the Postwar United States," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(1), pages 1-38, February.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Bruce D. Meyer & James X. Sullivan, 2009. "Five Decades of Consumption and Income Poverty," NBER Working Papers 14827, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Oster, Emily & Shoulson, Ira & Quaid, Kimberly & Dorsey, E. Ray, 2010. "Genetic adverse selection: Evidence from long-term care insurance and Huntington disease," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(11-12), pages 1041-1050, December.
    3. Bruce D. Meyer & James X. Sullivan, 2011. "Consumption and Income Poverty over the Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 16751, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. William Passero & Thesia I. Garner & Clinton McCully, 2014. "Understanding the Relationship: CE Survey and PCE," NBER Chapters,in: Improving the Measurement of Consumer Expenditures, pages 181-203 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Zilanawala, Afshin & Pilkauskas, Natasha V., 2012. "Material hardship and child socioemotional behaviors: Differences by types of hardship, timing, and duration," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 814-825.
    6. Bruce D. Meyer & Wallace K. C. Mok & James X. Sullivan, 2009. "The Under-Reporting of Transfers in Household Surveys: Its Nature and Consequences," NBER Working Papers 15181, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Müller, Philip & Schmidt, Tobias, 2015. "Identifying income and wealth-poor households in the euro area," Discussion Papers 35/2015, Deutsche Bundesbank.
    8. William Passero & Thesia I. Garner & Clinton McCully, 2013. "Understanding the Relationship: CE Survey and PCE," Working Papers 462, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    9. Shawn Fremstad, 2010. "A Modern Framework for Measuring Poverty and Basic Economic Security," CEPR Reports and Issue Briefs 2010-12, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13413. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.