Category Archives: Measuring Poverty

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.

News Coverage of Poverty: ‘You can’t win’: the parents working full-time – and struggling to survive

poverty youthNews Coverage of Poverty: Chris McGreal, ‘You can’t win’: the parents working full-time – and struggling to survive, The Guardian, Apr. 30, 2019.

New Blog Post: From Gentrification to Decline: How Neighborhoods Really Change

concentration of povertyNew Blog Post: Tanvi Misra, From Gentrification to Decline: How Neighborhoods Really Change,, Apr. 10, 2019.

News Coverage of Poverty: India’s poor don’t want money — they want health care

News Coverage of Poverty: Kelsey Piper, India’s poor don’t want money — they want health care,, Apr. 12, 2019.

New Article: Early adversity in rural India impacts the brain networks underlying visual working memory

New Article: Sobanawartiny Wijeakumar, et. al, Early adversity in rural India impacts the brain networks underlying visual working memory, Wiley Online Lib. (2019).  Abstract below:

There is a growing need to understand the global impact of poverty on early brain and behavioural development, particularly with regard to key cognitive processes that emerge in early development. Although the impact of adversity on brain development can trap children in an intergenerational cycle of poverty, the massive potential for brain plasticity is also a source of hope: reliable, accessible, culturally agnostic methods to assess early brain development in low resource settings might be used to measure the impact of early adversity, identify infants for timely intervention and guide the development and monitor the effectiveness of early interventions. Visual working memory (VWM) is an early marker of cognitive capacity that has been assessed reliably in early infancy and is predictive of later academic achievement in Western countries. Here, we localized the functional brain networks that underlie VWM in early development in rural India using a portable neuroimaging system, and we assessed the impact of adversity on these brain networks. We recorded functional brain activity as young children aged 4–48 months performed a VWM task. Brain imaging results revealed localized activation in the frontal cortex, replicating findings from a Midwestern US sample. Critically, children from families with low maternal education and income showed weaker brain activity and poorer distractor suppression in canonical working memory areas in the left frontal cortex. Implications of this work are far‐reaching: it is now cost‐effective to localize functional brain networks in early development in low‐resource settings, paving the way for novel intervention and assessment methods.

New Article: The Architecture of a Basic Income

New Article: Miranda Perry Fleischer & Daniel Jacob Hemel, The Architecture of a Basic Income, U. Chicago L. Rev. (forthcoming) (2019).   Abstract below:

The notion of a universal basic income (“UBI”) has captivated academics, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and ordinary citizens in recent months. Pilot studies of a UBI are underway or in the works on three continents. And prominent voices from across the ideological spectrum have expressed support for a UBI or one of its variants, including libertarian Charles Murray, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, labor leader Andy Stern, and—most recently—former President Barack Obama. Although even the most optimistic advocates for a UBI will acknowledge that nationwide implementation lies years away, the design of a basic income will require sustained scholarly attention. This article seeks to advance the conversation among academics and policymakers about UBI implementation.

Our prior work has focused on the philosophical foundations of a basic income; here, we build up from those foundations to identify the practical building blocks of a large-scale cash transfer program. After canvassing the considerations relevant to the design of a UBI, we arrive at a set of specific recommendations for policymakers. We propose a UBI of $6000 per person per year, paid to all citizens and lawful permanent residents via direct deposit in biweekly installments. We argue—contrary to other UBI proponents—that children and seniors should be included, that adjustments for household size and cost of living should be rejected, that recipients should have a limited ability to use future payments as collateral for short- and medium-term loans, and that the Social Security Administration should carry out the program. We also explain how a UBI could be financed through the consolidation of existing cash and near-cash transfer programs as well as the imposition of a relatively modest surtax on all earners.

Importantly, the building blocks of a UBI do not necessarily determine its outward face. By this, we mean that economically identical programs can be described in very different ways—e.g., as a UBI with no phaseout, a UBI that phases out with income, and a “negative income tax”—without altering any of the essential features. To be sure, packaging matters to the public perception of a UBI, and we consider reasons why some characterizations of the program may prove more popular than others. Our article seeks to sort the building blocks of a UBI out from the cosmetic components, thereby clarifying which elements of a UBI shape implementation and which ones affect only the outward appearance.

New Blog Post: The New Black Codes: Wealth Extraction, Economic Justice, and Excessive Fines Schemes in Timbs v. Indiana

New Blog Post: Emma Coleman Jordan & Angela P. Harris, The New Black Codes: Wealth Extraction, Economic Justice, and Excessive Fines Schemes in Timbs v. Indiana, L. & Pol. Econ. Blog, Mar. 11, 2019.

The College Entrance Fiasco: A Mega Blog Post featuring Commentary & Scholarship

In the News:

Devlin Barrett & Matt Zapotosky, FBI accuses wealthy parents, including celebrities, in college-entrance bribery scheme, Wash. Post, Mar. 12, 2019.

Libby Nelson, The real college admissions scandal is what’s legal, Vox, Mar. 12, 2019.  “The scheme only worked because college admissions in America is broken.”

Joe Pinsker, Why Rich Parents Are So Set on Their Kids Going to Top Colleges, The Atlantic, Mar. 13, 2019. “There are plenty of examples of young people who go to all kinds of different schools who lead very successful and fulfilling lives, regardless of the name on their diploma,” . . . that may be true, but it’s harder to convey on a bumper sticker.

EJ Dickson, 9 of the Most WTF Details from the College Admissions Scandal Court Docs, Rolling Stone, Mar. 12, 2019.

Christal Hayes, College admissions scam rekindles scrutiny of Kushner’s Harvard acceptance, $2.5M pledge, USA Today, Mar. 12, 2019.


William G. Bowen, Martin A. Kurzweil, and Eugene M. Tobin, Equity and Excellent in American Higher Education (2006).


Despite our rhetoric of inclusiveness, a significant number of youth from poor families do not share equal access to America’s elite colleges and universities. While America has achieved the highest level of educational attainment of any country, it runs the risk of losing this position unless it can markedly improve the precollegiate preparation of students from racial minorities and lower-income families. After identifying the “equity” problem at the national level and studying nineteen selective colleges and universities, the authors propose a set of potential actions to be taken at federal, state, local, and institutional levels. With recommendations ranging from reform of the admissions process, to restructuring of federal financial aid and state support of public universities, to addressing the various precollegiate obstacles that disadvantaged students face at home and in school, the authors urge all selective colleges and universities to continue race-sensitive admissions policies, while urging the most selective (and privileged) institutions to enroll more well-qualified students from families with low socioeconomic status.

Jerome Karabel, The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton (2005). 

61HwuCVjihL.jpgMany of Karabel’s findings are astonishing: the admission of blacks into the Ivy League wasn’t an idealistic response to the civil rights movement but a fearful reaction to inner-city riots; Yale and Princeton decided to accept women only after realizing that they were losing men to colleges (such as Harvard and Stanford) that had begun accepting “the second sex”; Harvard had a systematic quota on “intellectuals” until quite recently; and discrimination against Asian Americans in the 1980s mirrored the treatment of Jews earlier in the century.

Thomas J. Espenshade & Alexandria Walton Radford, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life (2009).


The authors explore the composition of applicant pools, factoring in background and “selective admission enhancement strategies”–including AP classes, test-prep courses, and extracurriculars–to assess how these strengthen applications. On campus, the authors examine roommate choices, friendship circles, and degrees of social interaction, and discover that while students from different racial and class circumstances are not separate in college, they do not mix as much as one might expect. The book encourages greater interaction among student groups and calls on educational institutions to improve access for students of lower socioeconomic status.


Gabrielle Bluestone, The college admissions scam is the perfect scandal in the golden age of grifters, Wash. Post, Mar. 13, 2019. “Part of what makes the Varsity Blues scandal so resonant is that it bluntly exposed workarounds that already exist to undermine higher education’s facade of meritocracy. It has long been legal — if distasteful — for wealthy parents to bribe colleges . . . .”

Rainesford Stauffer, I Learned in College That Admission Has Always Been for Sale, NY Times, Mar. 13, 2019. “The bribery scandal is no more abhorrent than the completely legal industry that helps many wealthy kids get into the schools of their dreams.”