Why has the richest country in the world, a country that has historically been a beacon of hope for the rest of the world, embraced a constellation of institutions that yield so much poverty and such severe poverty? It’s not typically argued that a main problem is one of measurement. But in fact it’s striking that the U.S. has such a primitive infrastructure for monitoring poverty, an infrastructure in which (a) poverty is measured only infrequently; (b) the many different types of poverty are largely ignored (with a consequent default to one-size-fits-all policy), (c) the poverty thresholds are arbitrarily drawn and assumed to be meaningful, and (d) emphasis is placed on counting the number in poverty rather than understanding and monitoring the conditions of poverty.

The National Poverty Study will take on each of these problems and develop a modern infrastructure for monitoring poverty and developing evidence-informed policy in the United States.  The main features of this plan:

  • The country’s first large-scale “qualitative census” encompassing 5,000 households across 100 sites in the United States
  • A rigorously representative sample of the country’s low-income population
  • Each of the main types of poverty represented (e.g., suburban poverty; deindustrializing poverty; rural poverty; reservation poverty; border poverty)
  • Samples stratified by the depth of poverty (e.g., deep poverty, near poverty)
  • A middle-class comparison group
  • The qualitative protocol is supplemented with a short survey, on-site experiments, and administrative data
  • The country’s new go-to resource for directly listening to the voices of the country’s low-income population and evaluating hypotheses about poverty
  • A carefully developed study backed by leading institutions

The goals: To provide high-quality and timely evidence on how the poor are coping with poverty; to understand the sources of and reactions to poverty across the many different types of poverty; and to allow the U.S. to develop poverty policy on the basis of high-quality and comprehensive evidence. Read more here.