Category Archives: Measuring Poverty

New Reports: “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2018” and “Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2018” from the Census Bureau

New Reports: Census Bureau, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2018, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2018. News coverage from NPR here.

New Report: The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes

New Report: The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes, National Low Income Housing Coalition, March 2019. Preview below:

National Shortage of Affordable Rental Housing.

The U.S. has a shortage of seven million rental homes affordable and available to extremely low-income renters, whose household incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or 30% of their area median income. Only 37 affordable and available rental homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. Extremely low-income renters face a shortage in every state and major metropolitan area, including the District of Columbia. Among states, the supply of affordable and available rental homes ranges from only 19 for every 100 extremely low-income renter households in Nevada to 66 in Wyoming. Among the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S, the supply ranges from 13 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 extremely low-income renter households in Orlando, FL to 51 in Pittsburgh, PA.


New Article: Targeting Poverty in the Courts: Improving the Measurement of Ability to Pay

New Article: Meghan M. O’Neil & J.J. Prescott, Targeting Poverty in the Courts: Improving the Measurement of Ability to Pay, U. Mich. 82 Law & Contemp. Probs. 199 (2019). Abstract below:

Ability-to-pay determinations are essential when governments use money-based alternative sanctions, like fines, to enforce laws. One longstanding difficulty in the U.S. has been the extreme lack of guidance on how courts are to determine a litigant’s ability to pay. The result has been a seat-of-the-pants approach that is inefficient and inaccurate, and, as a consequence, very socially costly. Fortunately, online platform technology presents a promising avenue for reform. In particular, platform technology offers the potential to increase litigant access, reduce costs, and ensure consistent and fair treatment—all of which should lead to more accurate sanctions. We use interviews, surveys, and case-level data to evaluate and discuss the experiences of six courts that recently adopted an online ability-to-pay assessment tool that streamlines and standardizes ability-to-pay determinations. Our findings suggest that the online tool improves accuracy and therefore the effectiveness of fines as punishments, and so it may make the use of fines as sanctions more socially attractive.

Book Review: Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor

Book Review: Dorothy E. Roberts, Digitizing the Carceral State: A review of Automatzing Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police and Punish the Poor, by Virginia Euba (New York, N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 2018), 132 Harv. L. Rev. 1695 (2019).


News Coverage: Without Parking, Thousands Of Americans Who Live In Vehicles Have Nowhere To Go

News Coverage: Graham Pruss, Without parking, thousands of Americans who live in their vehicles have nowhere to go,, July 8, 2019.

New Book: Measuring Poverty around the World

New Book: Anthony B. Atkinson, Measuring Poverty around the World, (Princeton Univ. Press, 2019). Overview below:

The final book from a towering pioneer in the study of poverty and inequality—a critically important examination of poverty around the world

In this, his final book, economist Anthony Atkinson, one of the world’s great social scientists and a pioneer in the study of poverty and inequality, offers an inspiring analysis of a central question: What is poverty and how much of it is there around the globe? The persistence of poverty—in rich and poor countries alike—is one of the most serious problems facing humanity. Better measurement of poverty is essential for raising awareness, motivating action, designing good policy, gauging progress, and holding political leaders accountable for meeting targets. To help make this possible, Atkinson provides a critically important examination of how poverty is—and should be—measured.

Bringing together evidence about the nature and extent of poverty across the world and including case studies of sixty countries, Atkinson addresses both financial poverty and other indicators of deprivation. He starts from first principles about the meaning of poverty, translates these into concrete measures, and analyzes the data to which the measures can be applied. Crucially, he integrates international organizations’ measurements of poverty with countries’ own national analyses.

Atkinson died before he was able to complete the book, but at his request it was edited for publication by two of his colleagues, John Micklewright and Andrea Brandolini. In addition, François Bourguignon and Nicholas Stern provide afterwords that address key issues from the unfinished chapters: how poverty relates to growth, inequality, and climate change.

The result is an essential contribution to efforts to alleviate poverty around the world.

Anthony B. Atkinson (1944–2017) was a Fellow of Nuffield College, University of Oxford, and Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics. His many books include Inequality: What Can Be Done?Public Economics in ActionLectures on Public Economics(with Joseph E. Stiglitz) (Princeton), and The Economics of Inequality.


New Blog Post: How the Democratic Candidates Talk about Poverty

New Blog Post: Kalena Thomhave, How the Democratic Candidates Talk about Poverty,, June 28, 2019. Medicare for All and income inequality are gaining traction among the party platform, but the candidates must frame all issues of poverty in terms of basic rights.



New Op-Ed: What a ‘Living Wage’ Actually Means

New Op-Ed: Eric Ravenscraft, What a ‘Living Wage’ Actually Means,, June 5, 2019. If you ask a dozen lawmakers what constitutes a “living wage,” you’ll get a dozen answers. Where does the term come from? And is it even accurate?

New Report: Ability to Pay

New Report: Ability to Pay (Judith Resnik, Anna VanCleave, Alexandra Harrington, Jeff Selbin, Lisa Foster, Joanna Weiss, Faith Barksdale, Alexandra Eynon, Stephanie Garlock, & Daniel Phillips eds. March 2019). [Although framed as a report, this in many ways is a reader, a collection, that could be useful in multiple classes as well as interesting to researchers focused on these areas.] Overview below:

Ability to Pay is the second Liman Center publication focused on the burdens that individuals with limited income and wealth face in courts. An impressive body of emerging literature maps the needs of low-income individuals in courts as civil litigants and as criminal defendants and identifies the harms of court-imposed debt. As these materials reflect, legal and political will has begun to put reforms into place that limit the ways in which courts impose financial obligations.

Part I, Challenging, Restructuring, and Abolishing Fee Structures, provides examples of the many lawsuits, as of the spring of 2019, that have challenged fees, fines, forfeiture, bail charges, and driver’s license suspensions. The litigation interacts with legislative revisions, also excerpted, and, in some jurisdictions, abolition of certain court fees and money bail.

Part II, Data Collection and Creation, offers an innovative overview of the kinds of data that state and federal court systems collect to understand how courts gain or lack information about the needs of participants in the legal system. This segment explores the current metrics used and the ways to “measure” what counts as justice. Given the growth of online technologies and the outsourcing of court filing systems to private providers, new questions have emerged about the need to have accessible and sufficient data, the concerns about individual privacy, and the problem of accountability.

Part III, Innovations and Interventions: A Sampling of New Research Projects, provides a window into the breadth of activities across the country, as law schools have become research hubs taking on a host of issues related to court users. Again, we are not comprehensive but illustrative when we explore the ways in which research agendas are formulated, their impacts measured, and their effectiveness appraised.

Part IV, Law Schools, Funders, and Institutionalizing Reform, reflects on the many times in which law schools have reinvented what counts as the “standard” curriculum. In the 1960s, foundation support brought clinical education to many law schools, and, since then, clinical education has become a fixture. In the 1980s, funding went to law and economics, which has likewise become a familiar marker in legal education.

Ability to Pay makes plain that another reordering is underway. Law schools are committing to teaching and generating new data on courts and their users and to engaging students through coursework and research in how courts operate and impact communities. In short, just as clinical education and law and economics are now ensconced in the curriculum, the economics of court services is likewise becoming a routine part of legal education.

News Coverage of Poverty: About 13m US children are living below the poverty line, rights group reveals

News Coverage of Poverty: Chris McGreal, About 13m US children are living below the poverty line, rights group reveals, The Guardian, Apr. 30, 2019.