Measures of Material Hardship: Final Report. Chapter 4: Measuring Material Hardship in the SIPP

04/01/2004

Data from the SIPP have frequently been used by researchers to assess families' material well being and to create material hardship indexes. While it is clear from the discussion presented in Chapter 3 that many researchers have used SIPP-based measures to examine material hardship, far less is known about the extent to which the selected measures are adequate or appropriate for measuring material hardship among families with children.

In this chapter we use the 1996 SIPP to conduct descriptive analyses of the specific measures that have most frequently been used by researchers in their material hardship definitions and indexes. The goal is to provide concrete data examples that further our understanding of these material hardship measures. The analyses respond to recommendations made by participants at the Roundtable Meeting for additional empirical analyses that examine the relationships between measures of material hardship in the SIPP and other measures of poverty and demographic characteristics. (See Appendix A for Roundtable Meetings participants' recommendations for "next steps.")

The analyses presented in the following sections examine how SIPP measures used by researchers to describe material hardship (i.e., those presented in Chapter 3) relate to: 1) other poverty measures; 2) general population characteristics (e.g., urban/rural), to understand how patterns of a particular hardship might differ; and 3) each other, to determine the congruence of the various hardship measures. Additionally, to improve our understanding of how these measures may be used to evaluate need among families with children, the comparisons presented in this chapter have been restricted to families with dependent children. This restriction reflects the growing interest in how these families are faring in the wake of welfare reform and, more specifically, the presence of specific types of material hardship among families with dependent children, since they are most likely to be affected by changes in federal and state welfare programs.

This chapter makes several important contributions to our understanding of material hardship and its measurement. First, to the extent that a condition frequently occurs among non-poor families with children, it may not be a useful indicator of the kind of hardship in which we are most interestedВ  that which is specifically related to unfavorable economic circumstances. Similarly, if measures seem to capture conditions only among families with certain demographic characteristics (e.g., urban or rural residence) they may be less useful in identifying hardship among the broader population. Second, to the extent that specific hardships occur together, we also may be able to identify patterns of hardship and where specific measures seem to describe the same experience. This is an important first step in evaluating existing measures and understanding how they might be combined to form a composite index of material hardship.

In the following sections, we describe our methodology for relating measures of material hardship to household characteristics. We then present two series of tabulations: selected measures of material hardship relative to household characteristics, and cross-tabulations of these measures with each other.

 

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