Panel Paper: A Qualitative Protocol for Monitoring Poverty

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 10:55 AM
Taos (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Beth Mattingly1,2 and David Grusky1, (1)Stanford University, (2)The Carsey School of Public Policy
The U.S. regularly reports on how many people are in poverty, but it has no infrastructure for monitoring the quality of life among the poor. We are therefore in the dark when it comes to knowing how the poor are making ends meet, how they are finding jobs, or the types of everyday problems they face. Although existing “one-shot” qualitative studies are very influential, these studies are not based on representative samples, have not been replicated over time or across sites, and cannot therefore be reliably used to develop policy. Useful though they are, data from these studies miss something fundamental about the structure of everyday life in poor households, including how the poor deploy their limited social and economic resources and how they respond to hardship.

This paper will report on a new study to develop a standardized, reusable protocol to rigorously assess the daily experiences of those in and near poverty and how those experiences change over time and differ across region. This protocol will be applied at 14 sites carefully selected to represent the variety of poverty forms in the country (e.g., deindustrialized, rural, suburban, new immigrant, concentrated). The respondents will be randomly drawn to represent the experiences of those in deep poverty, poverty, near poverty, and the middle class (as a comparison group).

The first pilot (to design the instrument) has been completed in the Bay Area, and the second pilot (to design the sampling methodology) is currently underway in Tucson and Nogales. Findings from these pretests provide evidence that qualitative interviews can effectively and efficiently document the experience of poverty. These results are paving the way for the national study. Current plans are to go to field in the fall of 2015 and then revisit each site at 5 year intervals (via a repeated cross-section design). New sites will be incorporated as necessary.

At the APPAM meeting, we will present, for the first time, results from the 2 pilot studies and detail plans for scaling this project up to 12 more sites around the nation.