Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Poverty in the USA / Census 2011

I looked at the poverty gap, before. I was surprised how small the gap was, even though one does often hear that more women live in poverty, and not that almost the same number of men and women live in poverty. So as the last time I looked I had 2008 data and now we have detailed 2011 data, let us have another look.

Source: Current Population Survey (CPS) - Poverty Status in 2010 | Here is the link to the nice table creator I used

Male           All   00-17   18-64   65-80+
Total      150,413  38,112  95,220   17,081
In Poverty  21,012   8,454  11,406    1,153
Percentage  14.0%   22.2%    12.0%    6.8%

Female         All   00-17   18-64   65-80+
Total      155,275  36,382  96,795   22,098
In Poverty  25,167   7,947  14,852    2,368
Percentage  16.2%   21.8%    15.3%   10.7%

F-M (%)     +2.2%   -0.4%    +3.3%   +3.9%
M/F%        46.4%   50.5%    44.0%   38.9%

(Numbers in Thousands)
** The Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement is an annual survey of approximately 78,000 households nationwide. Therefore, use extreme caution when making inferences when the cell sizes are small.
** Some CPS questions, such as income, ask about the previous year. Others, such as age, refer to the time of the survey. The column labels indicate any subject with a reference year which differs from the survey year.

The difference again, not that dramatic. The question that keeps puzzling me is however how does paying child support / alimony affect those numbers as it is not counted via the official poverty statistics. A helpful lady at the census pointed me to "Alternative Poverty Measures" that started to collect this data. After a bit of searching on the CDC site I came across this:

"The Supplemental Poverty Measure: Examining the Incidence and Depth of Poverty in the U.S. Taking Account of Taxes and Transfers in 2010 - Kathleen S. Short - March 15, 2012":

The current poverty thresholds use family size adjustments that are anomalous and do not take into account important changes in family situations, including payments made for child support and increasing cohabitation among unmarried couples.

The above is one point they are addressing, which is exactly what I was looking for. Sadly in their analysis there was no sex gap, which still keeps me guessing (I emailed the author and asked if she could point me in the right direction - we will see how that goes). What I noticed though is that in their data (see table 3) using the supplemental poverty measure the percentage of female headed units living in poverty increases via 0.3% while the percentage of male headed units living in poverty increased by 4.3%. This is about 14 times the rate of the female headed units. There is still a gap of about 6.3% here, but how this translates to the overall sex gap, as they also introduce new units, I can just guess. So I hope I will get an answer to that email.


  1. I must say I am a fan of your blog. A few thoughts:

    1) I think it's abundantly clear that single childless women are earning at parity or better. So it is no surprise that non-family poverty rates are very similar, and I won't be surprised if the result skews in favor of women in the future

    2) The official US measure of poverty does include the effect of CS/Alimony on the payee, not on the payer. I cannot think of a good reason for this. The only things that come to mind are making the numbers look better, or assuming that the support payments are calibrated to not push a payee into poverty.

    3) The unrelated adults in poverty removes the largest chunk of poor adults i.e. people with children. Also the presence of children in the under 17 age group makes that column meaningless.

    One way to look at it is the household count under the official measure:
    Married households: 3.4M
    Male headed: 0.9M
    Female headed: 4.4M

    That's 7.8M (3.4M+4.4M) adult women, and 4.3M adult men in poverty. That's still a 2:1 ratio against the ability of women to keep above the poverty line and 4:1 if counting those without a potential male earner.

    Alternatively, if you take the 18-64 (0-17 has children, and above 64 a big chunk of the poor men are already dead) age range you get
    Male count: 11.4M
    Female count: 14.9M

    That’s 30% excess female poverty.

    4) SPM includes 'Near-money benefits', basically state subsidies/welfare and alimony. While the former is a good measure of the efficacy of state welfare, I do not agree that it is useful in arriving at a poverty count. If your so poor the government has to give you a house, you should be counted as poor.

    Every with that metric, female headed households are 27% more likely to live in poverty (23% vs 29%). Likely the removal of benefits from the income side will hit women more.

    What I don’t understand is why female poverty rates do not improve when welfare is factored in. The change is just 1%, and it seems that a combination of:
    a) Welfare cancels out a lot of the effects of child rearing
    b) Impact of children is overestimated
    c) Impact of medical/old age are underestimated
    d) Benefits do not kick in early enough, and when they do, are not sufficient to lift one over the threshold.
    e) The new SPM unit includes a lot of women who cohabit, letting them approach efficiencies of married couples for fixed costs.
    Figure 1,

    However the effect on men is huge. There’s a 23% increase in poverty every after benefits kick in.

    The effect on married couples is even larger, a 30% increase. Again this is likely the effect of alimony/CS payments for remarried couples.

    5) The poverty numbers do not include incarcerated men (or women). Given incarceration rates are highest in poor communities; this likely reduces the poor male count.

  2. They do not ask the question as to who pays in the census data. As it seems those are now in the alternative poverty, even though there is still no comparing between man and woman. Ah well. Hopefully with time I will get that data....even though, not a huge gap.

    Oh, always pleased to meet a fan. Heya there!