In 2004, the official U.S. poverty rate for families reached its highest level (12.3 percent) since 1993. Moreover, poverty rates varied substantially across different family structures. Families headed by single females, for example, experienced poverty rates nearly six times as great as families headed by married couples.
While the poverty rate is a useful tool for assessing trends in economic wellbeing, the measure has been criticized for its inability to reflect income sufficiency for any particular family in recent decades. In order to better understand how families are faring, researchers have increasingly turned to measures of material hardship. Estimates of material hardship provide insight into whether a family's basic needs such as food, housing, and medical care are being met. Analysts commonly infer that poverty and hardships are highly correlated, although few examine the correspondence between these measures.
This brief uses data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine the incidence and concurrence of poverty and material hardships among mothers and children during the first five years following a non-marital birth. (Author abstract)