Impressionistic Realism: The Europeans Focus the U.S. on Measurement

At the Joint OECD/University of Maryland Conference on “Measuring Poverty, Income Inequality, and Social Exclusion: Lessons from Europe” (held in Paris, 2009), many of the conference papers focused on alternative measures of income, evaluating their impacts on inequality and poverty. The conference papers highlighted the impact of making detailed changes that affect measurement. These details, in turn, provide insight for the larger context of determining the “best” resource measure to use for poverty and inequality measurement. In many cases, the details do not change the picture of the trend in poverty, or even the comparisons across countries, but they often change the composition of the poor. Examining the details helps to logically connect the parts to form a satisfactory whole or picture. As it is often difficult to clarify all of the details and obtain the “best” measure, the main focus should be on obtaining a sufficient statistic that reflects a country's poverty or inequality and that can be compared over time and across countries. In this article, the author points out that in order to evaluate how the logical connection of parts affect the overall picture of poverty, one must answer the “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” of poverty measurement: Who is the unit of analysis (and the choice of equivalence scale); What resource measure will be used; Where is poverty measured (and does it differ by geographic location); When is poverty measured (and does it change over time); Why is poverty measured and what is the purpose; How is the poverty threshold constructed and used? (Contains 10 footnotes and 1 table.)