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Beneath the poverty line during the Great Depression: The measurement and demographic composition of poverty in 1939

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Title: Beneath the poverty line during the Great Depression: The measurement and demographic composition of poverty in 1939
Author(s): Barrington, Linda
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Atack, Jeremy
Department / Program: History, United StatesEconomics, HistorySociology, Demography
Discipline: History, United StatesEconomics, HistorySociology, Demography
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): History, United States Economics, History Sociology, Demography
Abstract: This thesis presents estimates of the poverty rate and the demographic composition of the poor in 1939. The underpinning of these estimates, and the foundation of the thesis, is the construction of poverty lines for 1939. The trend of household poverty over the twenty year period 1939 to 1959 is also discussed. Official poverty statistics for the United States do not exist for years prior to 1959.The 1939 poverty lines that I construct are estimated by applying the Orshansky method (the underpinning of the 1959 poverty line) to data from the period of interest. These data include the nutritional standards, and, the expenditure patterns and (age and gender) composition of households in the 1930s.Because the official U.S. poverty lines are not defined strictly by the cost of a subsistence basket of goods, adjusting for cost of living alone introduces problems which include but are not confined to those of the standard indexing problem. The poverty lines that I produce are approximately half those obtained through backward extrapolation of the official 1959 poverty lines using the Consumer Price Index to adjust for cost of living. This striking contrast shows the degree to which backward extrapolation, adjusting solely for inflation, superimposes a more recent conceptual framework of poverty onto the historical analysis. Currently, the United States government revises yearly the official poverty line by adjusting for price changes, using the Consumer Price Index. My results strengthen, through historical analogy, the criticism of the annual U.S. poverty line revision.In addition, I use the Public Use Micro Sample of the 1940 Population Census to analyze household poverty, estimating the poverty rate and the composition of poverty by gender, age, race, and farm status of the household head. I also use logit regression analysis to investigate the determinants of household poverty in 1939. The trend of poverty over the period 1939-1959 is influenced greatly by the method of poverty line construction. Feminization of poverty between 1939 and 1959 is evident in my poverty rate estimates but not in those produced using the CPI-indexed poverty lines.
Issue Date: 1991
Type: Text
Language: English
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/23819
Rights Information: Copyright 1991 Barrington, Linda
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog: AAI9210737
OCLC Identifier: (UMI)AAI9210737
 

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