Measuring poverty in the midst of America's covid-19 epidemic

Author: Leigh Lynes

Poverty measurement is usually a staid and slow affair. The Census Bureau issues an official number once a year. Using data from the monthly unemployment survey, however, economists have recently developed a procedure for generating timelier estimates to give real-time feedback.

"We can explain the entire decline in poverty from April to June by the stimulus package," says Bruce Meyer of the University of Chicago. His recent work, published with James X. Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame and Jeehoon Han of Zhejiang University, shows a nearly 15% drop in the poverty rate that then reversed after the stimulus lapsed. As before the pandemic struck, these rates are higher for African-Americans, workers without college degrees, and children.

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