Academic journal article Migration Letters

Poverty Measurement for a Binational Population

Academic journal article Migration Letters

Poverty Measurement for a Binational Population

Article excerpt


Traditional poverty measures are inappropriate for migrant populations. Frequently cited poverty thresholds are calculated under assumptions that individuals and their families face only one set of prices annually. This study formulates (and contrasts to current thresholds) alternative measures for a population that spends substantial time in two (or more) countries. Specifically, weights are developed based on annual week allocations, income, family characteristics, and comparative price levels. As illustration, an example demonstrating how alternative thresholds can be generated for those whose annual work spans international boundaries is drawn from the Mexico-US migration context using survey data, official thresholds, and these weights. Despite caveats due to data limitations for the case study, illustrations should be of interest academically and to those involved in ground-level statistical calculations pertaining to demographic trends and the welfare state.

Keywords: poverty measurement, immigration, transnational population, cost-ofliving

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Mexican migrants are often among the poorest members of the working class in the United States. Traditional poverty measures, however, are inappropriate for analysing this population and others with similar characteristics. Frequently cited poverty measures include thresholds and lines that are functions of family size, but are calculated under the assumption that individuals and their families face a common price level set throughout the year. Those participating in migrant streams spanning borders, however, split annual time between source and receiving countries and face different costs of living domestically and abroad. This may apply to single individuals, to entire families who migrate together, or only to select members of a family unit (e.g., a parent who alone participates in seasonal or other temporary work in a foreign country). In addition to substantial differences across international borders, relevant prices may further differ across regions within a country.

A primary aim of this paper is to examine the appropriateness of current, and hypothetical alternative, poverty measures for the case of a population that spends substantial time in two (or more) locations. Much of the academic literature pertaining to immigration and poverty has focused either on poverty among settled immigrants within a receiving country, or on the effects of transfers (often remittances) on poverty for family (or community) left behind in a source country as migrants work internationally. This study addresses a gap in the academic literature by examining outcomes among migrants themselves and their immediate family members while adjusting for time spent abroad and therefore for different living costs faced. Furthermore, public aid program eligibility is often a function of poverty status and therefore this paper is of policy significance beyond the goal of improving statistical calculations for demographic study purposes.

The methodology involves calculating alternative poverty rates that account for relative time spent in various locations and examining whether variation between these alternatives and official US poverty thresholds is statistically and economically significant. In addition to formalizing these theoretical specifications, an empirical example is calculated for the case of Mexico-US migrant streams. Given cost of living differences, US wages that put a worker's total family income below US thresholds often do not put the same worker's family below Mexico's poverty guidelines. Furthermore, once adjustments are made for time spent in various locations, wages that put a worker's total family income below US thresholds may not put the same worker under adjusted thresholds. Additional differences may exist once within-country regional variation is taken into consideration.

This paper contributes to literatures on the statistical measurement of poverty and of the demographics of border populations. …

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