Income Data for Policy Analysis: A Comparative Assessment of Eight Surveys. Poverty and Near Poverty Among Children and the Elderly

12/23/2008

SIPP’s comparatively high estimates of the frequency of near-poor and low-income persons in the general population extend to children as well. SIPP finds more near-poor and low-income children than any of the other four surveys. While the estimates of children in low-income families from the CPS, ACS, and MEPS cluster between 27.4 and 28.0 million, or 38.2 to 38.9 percent, SIPP finds 30.5 million low-income children or 42.7 percent of all children (Table IV.8). NHIS is slightly lower than SIPP with 41.4 million low-income children or 29.7 percent. Furthermore, unlike the general population, where SIPP had the lowest estimate of persons in poverty, SIPP’s estimate of poor children exceeds those of the ACS, MEPS, and CPS, if only marginally. NHIS finds the most poor children with a child poverty rate that exceeds the other surveys by 2 to 3 percentage points, but NHIS has no more near-poor children than CPS or MEPS. In fact, the estimates of near-poor children vary from only 14.9 to 15.4 million or 21.1 to 21.5 percent across the CPS, ACS, MEPS, and NHIS while SIPP finds 17.7 million or 24.8 percent.

The living arrangements of poor, near-poor, and low-income children are generally similar across the five surveys. Poor children are much more likely to be living in single-parent than husband-wife families while near-poor children are more likely to be living in husband-wife than single-parent families (Table IV.9). All low-income children divide almost equally between the two types of living arrangements in the CPS, SIPP, and MEPS, with single-parent families more prevalent in the ACS and husband-wife families more common in the NHIS.

TABLE IV.8

ESTIMATES OF POOR AND NEAR-POOR CHILDREN: FIVE SURVEYS
Estimate CPS ACS SIPP MEPS NHIS
Millions of Persons
All Children under 18 71.67 70.79 71.36 71.80 71.73
Poverty Status
Poor 12.03 12.51 12.78 12.47 14.29
Near Poor 15.38 14.94 17.72 15.47 15.41
Total Low Income 27.41 27.45 30.50 27.95 29.70

 

ESTIMATES OF POOR AND NEAR-POOR CHILDREN: FIVE SURVEYS (continued)
Estimate CPS ACS SIPP MEPS NHIS
Millions of Persons
All Children under 18 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Poverty Status
Poor 16.8 17.7 17.9 17.4 19.9
Near Poor 21.5 21.1 24.8 21.5 21.5
Total Low Income 38.2 38.8 42.7 38.9 41.4

Source: Mathematica Policy Research, from tabulations of poverty status in calendar year 2002 from the 2003 CPS ASEC supplement, the 2001 SIPP panel, the 2002 Full-year Consolidated MEPS-HC, and the 2003 NHIS, and poverty status in the prior 12 months, inflation-adjusted to calendar year 2002, from the 2002 ACS Note: The poor have a family income below the poverty threshold.  The near poor have a family income at or above the poverty threshold but below twice the poverty threshold.

TABLE IV.9

LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OF POOR AND NEAR-POOR CHILDREN: FIVE SURVEYS
Estimate CPS ACS SIPP MEPS NHIS
Millions of Children Under 18
Poor Children 12.03 12.51 12.78 12.47 14.29
In single-parent family 7.02 7.60 7.93 7.96 7.79
In husband-wife family 4.09 3.78 4.19 3.81 5.49
Not living with a parent 0.92 1.13 0.67 0.71 1.01

 

LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OF POOR AND NEAR-POOR CHILDREN: FIVE SURVEYS(continued)
Estimate CPS ACS SIPP MEPS NHIS
Millions of Children Under 18
Near Poor Children 15.38 14.94 17.72 15.47 15.41
In single-parent family 5.87 5.70 6.69 5.45 5.48
In husband-wife family 8.74 8.37 10.49 9.53 9.24
Not living with a parent 0.77 0.87 0.54 0.49 0.68

 

LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OF POOR AND NEAR-POOR CHILDREN: FIVE SURVEYS(continued)
Estimate CPS ACS SIPP MEPS NHIS
Millions of Children Under 18
Total:Low-income Children 27.41 27.45 30.50 27.95 29.70
In single-parent family 12.89 13.29 14.61 13.40 13.27
In husband-wife family 12.83 12.15 14.68 13.35 14.73
Not living with a parent 1.69 2.01 1.21 1.20 1.69

Source: Mathematica Policy Research, from tabulations of poverty status in calendar year 2002 from the 2003 CPS ASEC supplement, the 2001 SIPP panel, the 2002 Full-year Consolidated MEPS-HC, and the 2003 NHIS, and poverty status in the prior 12 months, inflation-adjusted to calendar year 2002, from the 2002 ACS. Note: The poor have a family income below the poverty threshold.  The near poor have a family income at or above the poverty threshold but below twice the poverty threshold. If a child is living with both parents, but they are not married, the child is counted as living in a single-parent family.

When a survey shows excessive numbers of poor or near-poor children, this may reflect an income reporting problem, which may affect the distribution of living arrangements among such children. This is illustrated by the NHIS, which yields high estimates of poor children relative to the other four surveys. If we compare the living arrangements of poor children in the NHIS with those of poor children in the any of the other surveys, we find that most of the difference is due to children in husband-wife families. For example, compared to the CPS the NHIS has .77 million additional poor children in single-parent families and 1.40 million additional poor children in husband-wife families. If the excess poverty among children in the NHIS is due to the survey’s underestimating their families’ incomes, such that the excess poor children should really be in a higher poverty bracket, the comparatively high frequency of husband-wife families among the poor children in the NHIS is consistent with the living arrangements of near-poor children. That is, if a near-poor family is misclassified as poor in the NHIS, such a family is more likely to be a husband-wife family than a single-parent family. We see the same phenomenon among near-poor children in the SIPP, which has substantially more of such children than any other survey. Comparing the living arrangements of near-poor children in the SIPP and CPS, we see that most of the excess in the SIPP is due to children in husband-wife families.

SIPP’s comparatively high estimates of low-income persons do not extend to the elderly. SIPP finds fewer low-income elderly than the CPS, MEPS, or NHIS at 11.6 million versus 12.9 to 13.6 million, or 34.1 percent versus 37.6 to 39.7 percent (Table IV.10). The ACS finds the fewest low-income elderly at 11.2 million or 33.3 percent, but SIPP finds the fewest poor elderly (3.0 million) and the lowest elderly poverty rate (8.9 percent). However, estimates of the number of poor elderly do not differ greatly among the five surveys, with the range among the CPS, MEPS, and NHIS being only 3.6 to 3.8 million or 10.5 to 11.3 percent.

TABLE IV.10

 

ESTIMATES OF POOR AND NEAR-POOR ELDERLY: FIVE SURVEYS
Population Subgroup CPS ACS SIPP MEPS NHIS
Millions of Persons
All Persons 65 and Older 34.22 33.56 33.95 34.15 34.22
Poverty Status
Poor 3.58 3.20 3.03 3.84 3.76
Near Poor 9.58 7.98 8.56 9.72 9.10
Total Low Income 13.16 11.18 11.59 13.56 12.86

 

ESTIMATES OF POOR AND NEAR-POOR ELDERLY: FIVE SURVEYS(continued)
Population Subgroup CPS ACS SIPP MEPS NHIS
Percent of the Population
All Persons 65 and Older 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Poverty Status
Poor 10.5 9.5 8.9 11.3 11.0
Near Poor 28.0 23.8 25.2 28.5 26.6
Total Low Income 38.5 33.3 34.1 39.7 37.6

Source: Mathematica Policy Research, from tabulations of poverty status in calendar year 2002 from the 2003 CPS ASEC supplement, the 2001 SIPP panel, the 2002 Full-year Consolidated MEPS-HC, and the 2003 NHIS, and poverty status in the prior 12 months, inflation-adjusted to calendar year 2002, from the 2002 ACS. Note: The poor have a family income below the poverty threshold.  The near poor have a family income at or above the poverty threshold but below twice the poverty threshold.

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