Academic journal article Migration Letters

Blind Spots of Traditional Poverty Measurement: The Case of Migrants

Academic journal article Migration Letters

Blind Spots of Traditional Poverty Measurement: The Case of Migrants

Article excerpt

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to examine blind-spots of poverty measurement with application to the study of migrant poverty. These blind-spots stem mostly from the heterogeneity of migrant population and the difficulty of capturing this heterogeneity in unidimensional monetary measures of economic well-being such as income (or consumption). In this context, the paper demonstrates the utility of noncash monetary variables in accounting for dimensions of material well-being which otherwise would have remained undetected. The microdata of the 2009 Cyprus Family Expenditure Survey and the idiosyncratic case of foreign domestic workers are used to illustrate the importance of the points made above, as well as to put forth potential solutions.

Keywords: Poverty; immigration; domestic workers; domestic workers.

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Introduction

Traditional poverty measurement analyses poverty on the basis of income relativities. An income threshold, dubbed 'poverty line', is computed using a commonly accepted standard and thereafter the incidence and intensity of poverty are determined vis-à-vis this threshold. This approach, despite its shortcomings, is widely used to diagnose the social situation in country-specific or comparative contexts, as well as to gauge the outcome of redistributive policies. Policies, which are designed to provide income support to those in need of them, cannot be evaluated by other means but by their capacity to alleviate poverty among targeted groups susceptible to material deprivation, such as the immigrants. Indeed, many studies have shown that immigrants experience systematically higher risk of poverty than natives and this differential, which can become very wide in some occasions, is difficult to narrow even with well-intended state interventions1. The role of policies can become even more challenging when their design is based on inaccurate estimates of the actual welfare of immigrants.

An important analytic challenge when dealing with migrant poverty is that immigrants compose a highly heterogeneous population group. This is because individuals, in their decision to move from their birth country and to settle to another, follow different paths of migration and are motivated by different reasons. Their migration strategies have implications for their labour market outcomes, access to public services, assimilation dynamics and, ultimately, determine their position in the income ladder. The paper attempts to show that bypassing this issue carelessly and adopting standard approaches in poverty measurement may be problematic. To illustrate this, the paper focuses mostly on a very idiosyncratic group of immigrants; namely that of foreign domestic workers, whose situation has been almost entirely neglected in the literature. Then, taking this illustrative example as stepping-stone, the discussion moves from the singularity of this case to more universal suggestions about the methodological treatment of immigrants as far as the measurement of their poverty risk is concerned. The basic argument is that unidimensional metrics of well-being may not fully capture the entire range and complexity of material deprivation that certain groups are susceptible to, but it is feasible to partly overcome this problem by using as instrument in the analysis specific noncash incomes. For, noncash incomes serve to capture further dimensions of economic well-being and provide a better picture of the relative differences between the various population groups.

Data and Methods

The empirical analysis is based on the typical assumptions usually characterizing most studies of poverty and income inequality. This section sketches these methods, as well as describes the overall context. The paper utilizes the 2009 Family Expenditure Survey (CyFES)2. Disposable income is used as the basic proxy of the unobservable material of well-being of individuals and is defined as the sum of all monetary income components after the deduction of taxes and social insurance contributions. …

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