Measures of Material Hardship: Final Report. Basic Needs and Food Security

04/01/2004

As described above, the "basic needs" and food security indicators are comprised of nine measures of negative outcomes. Three different reference time periods are used in these questions: the past 12 months, the current point in time, and the past 4 months. The most common of these outcomes are: missing a utility payment during the past year and experiencing food insecurity during the past 4 months (14 and 12% respectively for all households with children; Exhibit 4.3). The rarest of these outcomes are: eviction for failure to pay rent or mortgage and loss of utilities for failure to pay bills (less than 1 and 2%, respectively). Falling in the middle of the prevalence range are: failure to make a rent or mortgage payment, telephone disconnection for failure to pay, failing to see a doctor or go to the hospital, failing to see a dentist, and food insecurity with hunger, all falling between 4 and 10%.

The qualitative patterns of relative prevalence are replicated for less well-off households, but at much higher levels. Food insecurity is experienced by 32% of households under 100% FPL and by 23% of households with no more than $100 in liquid assets; the proportions of these less-well-off groups' failure to pay their utility bills are 29 and 25%, respectively.

In general, these nine outcomes are significantly more common among households with low incomes and limited assets (i.e., income under 100% of FPL and with less than $100 in liquid assets). The sole exception to this statement is that households in the middle income category, 100-200% of FPL, are no more likely to miss seeing a dentist when they need to than households under 100% of FPL. Aside from this, the prevalences are significantly different in the expected direction (p <0.01) for all comparisons between the respective reference groups.

Not all of these basic need measures seem to be equally useful as indicators of hardship. Evictions for failure to pay rent or mortgage, and to a lesser extent loss of utilities for failure to pay, are such rare events that they sacrifice specificity to sensitivity. That is, while virtually all households experiencing these events undoubtedly suffer material hardship (indicating that these are highly sensitive measures), many households that do not experience these events also suffer material hardship (suggesting that they are not highly specific measures).

Failure to see a dentist also does not have a clearly defined relationship to income. This finding is not entirely a surprise given that there might be reasons to not to see a dentist that are unrelated to poverty or material hardship (e.g., a general dislike of dental appointments). This is consistent with Roundtable Meeting participants' comments on the importance of knowing or understanding the reasons behind a situation before labeling it a hardship. This is particularly the case with health care-related measures. Researchers who attended the Meeting and had been involved with the National Survey of America's Families (NSAF) noted that they found it very difficult to code reasons for not seeing medical care when it was needed.

Exhibit 4.3
Availability of Basic Needs and Food Security, by Income and Assets
  Did not pay rent or mortgage Evicted for failure to pay rent or mortgage Did not pay gas, oil, or electricity bill Lost gas, oil, or electricity for failure to pay Telephone disconnected for failure to pay Needed to see doctor or go to hospital but did not Needed to see dentist but did not Food insecure Food insecure with hunger
Household income relative to FPL
Under 100%a 18.2 1.1 29.4 6.0 15.1 14.9 16.8 32.0 12.6
100-200% 13.0*** 0.4** 21.6*** 3.2*** 10.4*** 11.1*** 16.0 19.5*** 7.6***
Over 200% 4.5*** 0.2*** 8.7*** 1.0*** 2.9*** 4.4*** 6.9*** 5.4*** 1.7***
Liquid assets
< $100a 14.6 0.7 24.6 4.5 12.3 12.5 16.1 23.0 9.0
=>$100 4.7*** 0.2*** 9.0*** 1.0*** 2.9*** 4.4*** 7.1*** 6.5*** 2.2***
All households 8.3 0.4 14.4 2.2 6.2 7.3 10.2 12.2 4.6
Notes:
a. Reference Category.
*** Statistically significantly different from reference category, p < 0.01.
** Statistically significantly different from reference category, p < 0.05.
* Statistically significantly different from reference category, p < 0.10.

Households in urban and rural areas: While most hardships are about equally prevalent among households in rural versus urban areas(16), rural households are significantly more likely to miss seeing a dentist when they needed to (p<0.10) than their urban counterparts. (Exhibit 4.4) This is in part a reflection of the different income distribution; however, as previously discussed, this measure also could be capturing phenomena unrelated to material hardship (e.g., transportation barriers or travel time to see a dentist).

Controlling for income, rural households tend to be less likely to experience hardships. In all three income groups, rural households have a significantly lower rate for at least one of the four occupancy and utility-related hardship measures than urban households. In addition, the poorest rural households are less likely to experience hunger than their urban counterparts (p < 0.01).

Households headed by single adults, married couples, and other multiple-adult configurations: All of the "basic needs" hardships are significantly more prevalent (p < 0.01) among households headed by single adults than among households headed by married couples. (Exhibit 4.5) Other multiple-adult households fall somewhere in the middle. They show very similar rates to those of single-adult households for eviction for failure to pay rent or mortgage and failure to get needed medical care. While generally not attaining the low rates of hardships as experienced by married couple households, this group does have significantly lower rates than single-adult households for hardships such as failure to pay utility bills, lack of a telephone, food insecurity, and food insecurity with hunger (p < 0.01).

The differences between married couple and single-adult households cannot be attributed solely to income. Even within income groups, married couple households tend to experience markedly fewer hardships than households headed by single parents. In all three income groups, married couple households are less likely to miss a rent or mortgage payment, miss a utility payment, have utilities cut off for failure to pay, have their phone disconnected, be food insecure, or experience hunger (p < 0.05 for 4 of the 18 tests, p < 0.01 for the remaining 14). They also are less likely to miss seeing a doctor (in the highest income group; p < 0.01) and to miss seeing a dentist (in the two higher income groups; p < 0.05, p < 0.01). But, the effect of income cannot be ignored. For example, married couple households are 10 percentage points less likely than single parent households to miss a rent or mortgage payment; yet within each of the income groups, the difference is "only" five-to-six percentage points. The remainder is a compositional effect.

Within income groups, households headed by other multiple adult configurations tend to look more like single-parent households, although a few differences show up. In the middle-income group (100-200% of FPL), they are less likely than single parent households to miss a utilities payment (p < 0.05), but are more likely to miss seeing a doctor (p < 0.10).

Exhibit 4.4
Availability of Basic Needs and Food Security, by Urban versus. Rural and Income
  Did not pay rent or mortgage Evicted for failure to pay rent or mortgage Did not pay gas, oil, or electricity bill Lost gas, oil, or electricity for failure to pay Telephone disconnected for failure to pay Needed to see doctor or go to hospital but did not Needed to see dentist but did not Food insecure Food insecure with hunger
Geographic Location
Urbana 8.4 0.4 14.7 2.2 6.4 7.1 9.9 12.1 4.6
Rural 7.7 0.3 13.3 2.1 5.6 8.2 11.7* 12.7 4.6
Under 100% FPL
Urbana 19.7 1.2 30.6 6.3 15.8 14.9 16.5 32.8 13.4
Rural 12.3*** 0.8 24.8* 4.9 12.3 15.0 18.0 29.2 9.5*
100-200% FPL
Urbana 13.1 0.5 22.3 3.1 10.8 11.1 15.2 19.6 7.6
Rural 12.4 0.0*** 19.2 3.6 9.2 11.3 18.8 19.2 7.7
Over 200% FPL
Urbana 4.5 0.2 9.0 1.1 3.0 4.3 6.9 5.4 1.7
Rural 4.4 0.3 7.6* 0.6* 2.3 4.9 6.9 5.3 1.9
All households 8.3 0.4 14.4 2.2 6.2 7.3 10.2 12.2 4.6
Notes:
a. Reference Category.
*** Statistically significantly different from reference category, p < 0.01.
** Statistically significantly different from reference category, p < 0.05.
* Statistically significantly different from reference category, p < 0.10.
Exhibit 4.5
Availability of Basic Needs and Food Security, by Household Composition and Income
  Did not pay rent or mortgage Evicted for failure to pay rent or mortgage Did not pay gas, oil, or electricity bill Lost gas, oil, or electricity for failure to pay Telephone disconnected for failure to pay Needed to see doctor or go to hospital but did not Needed to see dentist but did not Food insecure Food insecure with hunger
Household Composition
Single adulta 15.5 0.8 27.7 4.8 12.6 11.0 14.9 25.3 11.2
Married couple 5.7*** 0.2*** 10.0*** 1.3*** 3.9*** 5.6*** 8.0*** 7.6*** 2.5***
Other multiple adults 13.0* 0.9 22.0*** 3.6* 10.7* 12.0 16.2 20.5*** 7.3***
Under 100% FPL
Single adulta 20.2 1.1 34.2 7.5 17.6 14.5 16.1 37.0 16.1
Married couple 15.1** 0.9 23.2*** 4.3** 11.5*** 14.3 17.3 24.2*** 8.7***
Other multiple adults 20.4 1.7 32.3 6.4 17.2 16.9 17.3 37.8 13.5
100-200% FPL
Single adulta 16.6 0.6 30.9 4.8 14.6 11.5 18.0 27.7 13.2
Married couple 11.4*** 0.1 17.5*** 2.4** 8.3*** 9.9 14.0** 15.1*** 5.0***
Other multiple adults 13.9 1.2 24.3** 4.0 13.0 15.2* 20.8 24.9 9.8
Over 200% FPL
Single adulta 9.5 0.6 18.3 1.9 5.6 7.0 11.0 10.8 4.4
Married couple 3.2*** 0.1 6.6*** 0.7** 2.0*** 3.5*** 5.5*** 3.9*** 1.2***
Other multiple adults 9.7 0.5 16.9 2.2 7.1 8.5 13.7 11.7 3.8
All households 8.3 0.4 14.4 2.2 6.2 7.3 10.2 12.2 4.6
Notes:
a. Reference Category.
*** Statistically significantly different from reference category, p < 0.01.
** Statistically significantly different from reference category, p < 0.05.
* Statistically significantly different from reference category, p < 0.10.

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