Measures of Material Hardship: Final Report. Why Measure Material Hardship?


The growing use of material hardship measures to examine the well-being of low-income families, particularly families with children who have left welfare, reflects researchers' interest in assessing the challenges families face when they have limited income and resources. Recent research suggests that material hardship measures can supplement existing income-based poverty measures by providing descriptive information on of how families are doing (e.g., Beverly, 1999, 2000; Mayer, 1997; Mayer & Jencks, 1989; Rector, Johnson, & Youssef, 1999). Moreover, measures of material hardship are a potentially useful tool for policy analysis and program evaluation. This is especially the case with the growth in "in-kind" benefits and services (e.g., food stamps, Medicaid, work supports and services) relative to cash transfers, and in the wake of recent welfare reform policies. Measures of material hardship also have been portrayed as "making more sense" to the public and policymakers than the official poverty statistic. The official poverty statistic has been characterized as "abstract" and as providing a less concrete sense of the living conditions of the poor and non-poor.

As noted by one group of researchers, measuring material hardship gets at the issue of, "what does it mean to be poor," by examining families' living conditions and the extent to which they meet their basic needs (Federman et al., 1996).

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