Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Constructing and Validating a Multiple-Indicator Construct of Economic Hardship in a National Sample of Adolescents with Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Constructing and Validating a Multiple-Indicator Construct of Economic Hardship in a National Sample of Adolescents with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Numerous investigations conducted within the United States indicate that exposure to poverty during childhood and adolescence is predictive of poor developmental outcomes (Cushon, Vu, Janzen, & Muhajarine, 2011). The detrimental effects of poverty have been demonstrated in hundreds of scientific studies and appear to extend across the life span, negatively affecting long-term educational and occupational attainment among youth and young adults (BrooksGunn, Duncan, & Aber, 1997; DiRago & Vaillant, 2007; Minkler, Fuller-Thomson, & Guralnik, 2006). Poverty is such a reliable predictor of such a broad range of outcomes that numerous social entitlement programs and expenditures are dedicated to combating it, and escape from poverty is celebrated within the social sciences (Elder, 1974; Wemer & Smith, 1989). Although less is known about poverty and disability, a disproportionate number of individuals with disabilities live in poverty (Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, 2012), and recent descriptions indicate that youth with disabilities exposed to poverty have higher rates of absenteeism from school, lower achievement in reading and math, receive lower grades, and have lower rates of high school completion, participation in postsecondary education, and steady employment (Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009; Wagner, Newman, Cameto, Garza, & Levine, 2005; Wagner, Newman, Cameto, Levine, & Marder, 2003).

Despite widespread evidence regarding the negative consequences of poverty, there is considerable debate about how poverty is operationalized, defined, and measured (Brooks-Gunn et al., 1997; Conger et al., 2002; Crosnoe, Mistry, & Elder, 2002; DiRago & Valillant, 2007; McLoyd, 1998; Short, 2011). For example, the current definition of poverty used within the United States is founded on estimating the amount of income needed for an adequate diet, multiplying that amount by three (based on the assumption that only one third of a family's income should be dedicated to food), accounting for family size, and then determining whether a family's income falls above or below the poverty threshold (Aber, Bennett, Conley, & Li, 1997). Although simple to compute and apply in practice, the income-food cost method for determining poverty has been widely criticized. Aber et al. (1997) note that (a) there are wide variations in resources within the group of families falling below the poverty threshold with large segments of that population using far more than one third of their income for food costs, and (b) there are large numbers of families that fall just above the threshold that may need governmental support but do not qualify due to their "near-poor" status. Similar critiques include the lack of attention devoted to understanding different spending preferences among families, the differential effects of taxation on families, and the benefits associated with long-term assets available to some families, such as home ownership (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2005). Others have observed that the current definition does not account for variations in expenses necessary for holding a job (e.g., transportation and child care costs), variations in medical costs, and costs associated with living in different geographical regions, all of which have been shown to affect a family's disposable income (Short, 2011). Still others have argued that income-based conceptualizations of poverty do not account for the deprivation of individual capabilities and the conflict or strain that arises between capabilities and potential attainments (Alkire & Santos, 2010; Sen, 1992).

To address perceived limitations with the federal poverty threshold definition, some scientists have argued for a more multifaceted definition of poverty, one that incorporates a broader number of relevant stressors, such as family income, single-parent status, parental level of education, parental occupational status, access to resources, and access to essential services, such as health care (Arnold & Doctorofif, 2003; Brooks-Gunn et al. …

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