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Why Were Poverty Rates So High in the 1980s?

  • Rebecca M. Blank

This paper explores the relationship between the macroeconomy and the poverty rate. The first section provides evidence that poverty was far less responsive to macroeconomic growth in the 1980s than it had been in earlier decades. The section explores and rejects four reasons for this: It is not due to the exclusion of in-kind income from the data, to the regional location of the poor, to the public assistance changes of the early 1980s, or to the changing demographic composition of the poor. Instead, it is almost entirely due to declines in real wages that occur among low-wage workers over the 1980s. In fact, employment and weeks of work per year within low-income households expands more rapidly in the 1980s than in the 1960s. This is almost entirely offset, however, by declines in weekly earnings at the bottom of the income distribution. The result is that economic growth has been a far less effective anti-poverty tool over the past decade.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w3878.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3878.

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Date of creation: Oct 1991
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Publication status: published as Papadimitrious, Dimitri B. and Edward N. Wolff (eds.) Poverty and Prosperity in the US in the Late Twentieth Century. London: Macmillan Press, 1993.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3878
Note: LS
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  1. 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 410-42, June.
  2. Rebecca M. Blank & Alan S. Blinder, 1985. "Macroeconomics, Income Distribution, and Poverty," NBER Working Papers 1567, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Rebecca Blank, 1985. "Disaggregating the Effect of the Business Cycle on the Distribution of Income," Working Papers 569, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  4. Keane, Michael & Moffitt, Robert & Runkle, David, 1988. "Real Wages over the Business Cycle: Estimating the Impact of Heterogeneity with Micro Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(6), pages 1232-66, December.
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