The Bottom 1%

A lot of research and writing explores the dynamics of the richest one percent, .1 percent, and even the .01 percent. But researchers only have the fuzziest understanding of America's poorest.

How is it different to be poor—very poor—in a developing country than in the richest country in the world? That's the question asked in a new paper from Brookings researchers Laurence Chandy and Cory Smith.

To answer it, Chandy and Smith needed to know more about that very bottom of America's wealth distribution—those living below the global poverty line of $2 per day. Not so easy: In contrast with how well-documented, how legible, the lives of the richest Americans are, those of the poorest are opaque, having fallen between the cracks in researchers' databases. The poorest are "the least explored and understood part of the distribution."