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Are We Providing Enough to Those Who Have Too Little? Measuring Poverty Relief*


This manuscript presents a new measure of safety net program effectiveness—a “poverty relief ratio”—that is based on the estimated relationship between market income and social transfers, and reports the amount of income support provided, relative to the amount required to provide for all low-income households’ basic needs. In an important advance over the standard poverty reduction rate measures, the poverty relief ratio preserves the rank order of observations across varying poverty thresholds. In this paper, we introduce this measure and demonstrate its validity by tracking major changes in federal policy and cross-state variation in safety net programs.

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Karen L. Jusko, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305 ( Katherine Weisshaar, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599 ( The measurement strategy presented in this paper was developed in the context of Jusko’s dissertation research on the politics of social policy and benefitted from early comments offered by Christopher Achen, John Jackson, Robert Franzese, and Ken Kollman. The authors are grateful to David Grusky, who suggested that the analysis could be usefully applied to social policy in the American states. Grusky also provided helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript and, through the Stanford Center for Poverty and Inequality, funding support for Weisshaar’s work on this project. Diana Dakhlallah provided excellent research assistance. Finally, the authors appreciate the detailed comments and suggestions offered by Jens Hainmueller, Robert Moffitt, Clayton Nall, Charles Varner, Kim Weeden, James Ziliak, and the anonymous reviewers of this manuscript. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

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Political Science Research and Methods
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