Category Archives: Measuring Poverty

New Article: “(Anti)Poverty Measures Exposed”

New Article: Francine J. Lipman, (Anti)Poverty Measures Exposed, 21 Florida Tax Rev. 256 (2017). Abstract below:

Few economic indicators have more salience and pervasive financial impact on everyday lives in the United States than poverty measures. Nevertheless, policymakers, researchers, advocates, and legislators generally do not understand the details of poverty measure mechanics. These detailed mechanics shape and reshape poverty measures and the too often uninformed responses and remedies. This Article will build a bridge from personal portraits of families living in poverty to the resource allocations that failed them by exposing the specific detailed mechanics underlying the Census Bureau’s official (OPM) and supplemental poverty measures (SPM). Too often, when we confront the problem of poverty, the focus is on the lives and behavior of those suffering the burdens of poverty and not on the inadequacy of resource allocations in antipoverty programs. The purpose of poverty measures should be to expose the effectiveness and failures of antipoverty programs so that they can be improved, not to scrutinize the lives and characteristics of those who are enduring these hardships.

This Article exposes poverty measures through the details of the United States’ current antipoverty programs, including the demographics of the populations who are included as beneficiaries and those that are left without adequate resources to survive. After reverse engineering the OPM and SPM, the Article describes the raw data from the starting population universes but then reveals the details of U.S. citizens and residents who have been intentionally excluded from the poverty analysis. The Article reveals that the excluded population is likely disproportionately poor and, thus, their erasure from the starting population universe understates derived poverty rates. Therefore, as a starting point, the OPM and SPM exclude millions of vulnerable Americans from the Census Bureau’s poverty measurement analyses. Nevertheless, the Article continues its poverty measure analysis using the Census Bureau’s original databases and rebuilds the OPM and SPM from the original population universes by applying each resource allocation program by program until demographic patterns emerge of who is lifted out of poverty proportionately or disproportionately in accordance with their pre-allocation poverty percentages in the population universes. By shifting the focus from Americans who suffer scarcity to the details of each antipoverty program and the demographics of who and in what proportion they are served by these programs, we better understand why almost 50 million Americans, including 16 million children, are not adequately provided for; do not have the necessary life resources; are struggling day in and day out; have been “nickel and dimed”; and are not getting by in the United States; and who, because of the misallocation (not lack) of resources, suffer the persistent and pernicious plight of poverty.


Op-Ed: “California Today: Tax Proposals Threaten Lower-Income Housing”

Connor Dougherty, Jason M. Bailey, California Today: Tax Proposals Threaten Lower-Income Housing, New York Times, November 13, 2017. [The tax proposals in Congress would make it more difficult for developers to finance affordable rental housing.]

Quiz: “You Draw It: How Family Income Predicts Children’s College Chances”

Gregor Aisch, Amanda Cox, Kevin Quealy, You Draw It: How Family Income Predicts Children’s College Chances, New York Times, May 28, 2015. [How likely is it that children who grow up in very poor families go to college? How about children who grow up in very rich families?]

New Article: “Atlas Nods: The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income”

Fleischer, Miranda Perry and Hemel, Daniel Jacob, Atlas Nods: The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income (October 21, 2017). Wisconsin Law Review, Forthcoming; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 17-306. [Abstract below]

Proposals for a universal basic income are generating interest across the globe, with pilot experiments underway or in the works in California, Canada, Finland, Italy, Kenya, and Uganda. Surprisingly, many of the most outspoken supporters of a universal basic income have been self-described libertarians — even though libertarians are generally considered to be antagonistic toward redistribution and a universal basic income is, at its core, a program of income redistribution. What explains such strong libertarian support for a policy that seems so contrary to libertarian ideals?

This Article seeks to answer that question. We first show that a basic safety net is not only consistent with, but likely required by, several strands of libertarian thought. We then explain why libertarians committed to limited redistribution and limited government might support a system of unconditional cash transfers paid periodically. Delivering benefits in cash, rather than in-kind, furthers autonomy by recognizing that all citizens — even poor ones — are the best judges of their needs. Decoupling such transfers from a work requirement acknowledges that the state lacks the ability to distinguish between work-capable and work-incapable individuals. Providing payments periodically, rather than through a once-in-a-lifetime lump sum grant, ensures that all individuals can receive a minimum level of support over lifespans of variable lengths, while also allowing individuals to adjust payment flows through financial market transactions.

Although our main objective is to assess the fit between libertarian theory and a universal basic income, we also address various design choices inherent in any basic income scheme: who should receive it?; how large should it be?; which programs might it replace?; and should it phase out as market income rises? Lastly, we consider the relationship between a basic income and the political economy of redistribution. We find that the case for a basic income as a libertarian “second-best” is surprisingly shaky: libertarians who oppose all redistribution but grudgingly accept a basic income as the least-worst form of redistribution should reconsider both aspects of their position. We conclude by drawing out lessons from our analysis for non-libertarians, regardless of whether they are supportive or skeptical of basic income arguments.

New Article: “Seizing Family Homes from the Innocent: Can the Eighth Amendment Protect Minorities and the Poor from Excessive Punishment in Civil Forfeiture?”

Rulli, Louis, Seizing Family Homes from the Innocent: Can the Eighth Amendment Protect Minorities and the Poor from Excessive Punishment in Civil Forfeiture? (2017). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, Vol. 19, p. 1483, 2017; U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 17-48. [Abstract below]

Civil forfeiture laws permit the government to seize and forfeit private property that has allegedly facilitated a crime without ever charging the owner with any criminal offense. The government extracts payment in kind — property — and gives nothing to the owner in return, based upon a legal fiction that the property has done wrong. As such, the government’s taking of property through civil forfeiture is punitive in nature and constrained by the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause, which is intended to curb abusive punishments.

The Supreme Court’s failure to announce a definitive test for determining the constitutional excessiveness of civil forfeiture takings under the Eighth Amendment has led to disagreement among state and federal courts on the proper standard. At the same time, the War on Drugs has resulted in an explosion of civil forfeiture filings against the property of ordinary citizens — many are whom are innocent of any wrongdoing — and therefore there is a profound need for a robust constitutional test that satisfies the Eighth Amendment’s original purposes. This need has grown more urgent because civil forfeiture practices are increasingly plagued by police abuses motivated by self-gain, and recent studies show that civil forfeitures disproportionately affect low-income and minority individuals who are least able to defend their hard-earned property.

This Article documents the aggressive use of civil forfeiture in Pennsylvania and, by way of illustration, presents the plight of elderly, African-American homeowners in Philadelphia who were not charged with any crime and yet faced the loss of their homes because their adult children were arrested for minor drug offenses. In such cases, the Eighth Amendment should play a vital role in preventing excessive punishments. But some courts mistakenly apply a rigid proportionality test, upon prosecutorial urging, that simply compares the market value of the home to the maximum statutory fine for the underlying drug offense. When a home value is shown to be less than the maximum fine, these courts presume the taking to be constitutional. Under such a one-dimensional test, prosecutors routinely win because the cumulative maximum fines for even minor drug offenses almost always exceed the market values of modest, inner-city homes. This cannot be the proper test. Instead, this Article contends that the proper constitutional test for excessiveness must be a searching, fact-intensive inquiry, in which courts are required to balance five essential factors: (1) the relative instrumentality of the property at issue to the predicate offense; (2) the relative culpability of the property owner; (3) the proportionality between the value of the property at issue and the gravity of the predicate offense; (4) the harm (if any) to the community caused by the offending conduct; and (5) the consequences of forfeiture to the property owner.

Op-Ed: “Mathematics of Inequality”

Taylor McNeil, Mathematics of Inequality, Tufts Now, October 28, 2017. [“Boghosian runs the numbers and shows that without redistribution of wealth, the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer.”]

New Study: “Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours.”

Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours., The Upshot, January, 18, 2017.

Op-Ed: “By age 3, inequality is clear: Rich kids attend school. Poor kids stay with a grandparent”

Heather Long, By age 3, inequality is clear: Rich kids attend school. Poor kids stay with a grandparent, Washington Post, September 26, 2017. [“Only 55 percent of America’s 3 and 4-year-olds attend a formal preschool”]

Op-Ed: “The subtle ways colleges discriminate against poor students explained with a cartoon.”

Alvin Chang, The subtle ways colleges discriminate against poor students explained with a cartoon, Vox, September 11, 2017. [“We stunt upward mobility and make college a finishing school for the affluent.”

Op-Ed: “Inequality of opportunity: The cost of the American dream”

C.K., Inequality of opportunity: The cost of the American dream, The Economist, September 8, 2017. [“The idea that every American newborn has an equal opportunity to enjoy the good life is false.”]