NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Improving Child Poverty Measures

October 3, 2013

The United States has one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world, according to some international rankings. However, yardsticks commonly used by the federal government and international organizations to measure poverty in America and other countries are inconsistent with each other, and could be inaccurate or misleading, says Marcelo Ostria, a research associate with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • The issue of poverty measurement is important because the United States and other developed countries spend billions of dollars each year on families in poverty, and developed countries send billions of dollars in aid to developing countries to alleviate deprivation, especially among children.
  • International child poverty rankings seek to expose which countries are the most and least effective in addressing child deprivation.
  • However, if countries do not agree upon a standard measure, drawing comparisons means little when pressuring countries to address the issue.
  • And because many countries are not addressing the limitations of current child poverty measures, social policies are likely being implemented based on misleading data.

Internationally, a relative poverty measure could mean very different living standards, depending on the country. For instance, a yearly income of $35,000 in a country where essential goods and services, such as health care and child care, are free (or heavily subsidized) implies a much different standard of living than in a country where these items must be paid for at market prices.

The lack of accuracy with relative measures of poverty, and reliability with surveyed deprivation statistics, challenges the belief that the United States has more pervasive child poverty than other developed countries. Developed countries must improve the accuracy of child deprivation measures in order to effectively target policies to benefit children, especially when attempting to bring about social change.

Source: Marcelo Ostria, "Comparative Child Poverty Measures," National Center for Policy Analysis, October 3, 2013.


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