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Non-poor Components of Population Growth and Immigration in the U.S., 1990–2010


Traditional measures of poverty are informative in indicating the degree of economic deprivation in a population at a cross-sectional point in time, but they do not consider growth in the size of the non-poverty population. We develop a measure of non-poverty population growth in order to explore whether it constitutes a useful indicator of an important demographic dynamic. We illustrate our approach with an analysis of the U.S. states using Census and American Community Survey data from 1990, 2000, and 2010. The results indicate that the extent to which the non-poor population increased across states is uncorrelated with the initial poverty rate as conventionally measured. Broken down by nativity, the findings further show that some states with official poverty rates above the national average (e.g., Arizona, Georgia, and Texas) nonetheless had some of the highest rates of non-poor population growth among less skilled immigrants. By contrast, other states with official poverty rates below the national average (e.g., Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont) often had low rates of non-poor population growth among less skilled immigrants. These findings suggest that low initial poverty rates do not necessarily contribute substantially to the alleviation of global poverty through the immigration of less skilled persons from less developed nations. However, the rate of non-poor population growth among less skilled immigrants also appears to be uncorrelated with state variation in minimum wages even after taking into account population density and median home value.

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  1. In principle, poverty gap measures are theoretically attractive (e.g., Sen 1976), but in practice their validity requires far more reliable information on income than do headcount measures. We leave aside debates about the appropriate derivation of the poverty threshold or the proper measurement of income (Iceland 2006) because our approach is flexible in regard to those methodological issues.

  2. Populations outside of the census poverty universe include individuals living in institutions, military quarters and college dormitories, as well as unrelated individuals under 15 years of age.


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The authors would like to thank one anonymous reviewer for her comments although any remaining errors are our own. Both authors contributed equally to this work.

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Correspondence to Isaac Sasson.

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Sasson, I., Sakamoto, A. Non-poor Components of Population Growth and Immigration in the U.S., 1990–2010. Soc Indic Res 115, 183–201 (2014).

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  • Poverty
  • Population growth
  • Immigration
  • Human welfare
  • Minimum wage