Revised December 7, 2016
By H. Luke Shaefer and Kathryn J. Edin
No data source is perfect for measuring the conditions faced by the nation’s poorest families. Following Edin’s initial qualitative insights from her qualitative research in Baltimore in 2010, we began to test a hypothesis that there had been a deterioration in the circumstances of America’s poorest families with the most reliable, nationally representative household survey data available, the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). We then checked our findings from the SIPP against numerous other sources of data, including SNAP administrative records, school reports of homeless children, and data on utilization of charitable emergency food programs. Finally, for a number of years we conducted in-depth ethnographic research in four sites across the country, seeking out families whom we believe would register as $2-a-day poor if they were survey respondents in the SIPP. All these sources of data paint a strikingly consistent picture of worsening conditions faced by the nation’s poorest families.