Analyzing Racial and Ethnic Differences in the USA through the Lens of Multidimensional Poverty

Associate Professor Shatakshee Dhongde
Team Members
Ph.D. student Xiaoyu Dong
About This Project

Shatakshee Dhongde and Xiaoyu DongBy: Gita Smith

Traditionally, poverty has been defined as the lack of income. However, the poor themselves may experience poverty much more broadly. A person in poverty may lack access to such indicators as: health care, clean water or electricity. As well, they may suffer from malnutrition, poor quality of work or inadequate schooling. Focusing on income alone is not enough to capture the true reality of poverty, say Shatakshee Dhongde and Xiaoyu Dong, of Georgia Tech’s School of Economics.

Their paper, published in the Journal of Economics, Race and Policy, offers improved measurements for estimating multidimensional poverty in the USA. The study reveals trends by race and ethnicity across different dimensions of wellbeing. Their measures can reveal poverty levels in different areas of a country and among sub-groups of people. This study is highly relevant in view of the political and racial protests for justice in 2020 in the USA that spotlighted issues related to economic hardships among different racial/ethnic groups.

These ethnic groups are defined within the U.S. Census where, for example, data from the Census decade show that more than 30% of Hispanic and American Indians had no health insurance. Few studies have estimated multidimensional poverty among American Indians. Compared with other groups, Native Americans had a lower decline in unemployment rates during the recovery from the Great Recession. Dhongde and Dong analyze how deprivation in each of the dimensions varied among individuals belonging to these racial/ ethnic groups. They also estimate the contribution of each of the racial and ethnic group to overall poverty. They found that Hispanics had the largest share in multidimensional poverty, followed by Native Americans, Blacks and Asians. The rapid recovery rate between 2013 and 2015 was partly due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which led to a significant increase in the proportion of individuals with health insurance.

This research adds to the literature on poverty. Recent literature on multidimensional poverty in the USA has almost exclusively relied on a 2011 set of indices by S. Alkire and J. Foster. Now, these alternative indices from Dhongde and Dong provided a more complete picture of multidimensional poverty in the USA. They write, “We urge future researchers to follow suit and use different indices while estimating multidimensional poverty since every index captures different aspects (incidence, severity, inequality) of multidimensional poverty.”

"Analyzing Racial and Ethnic Differences in the USA through the Lens of Multidimensional Poverty" was published in the Journal of Economics, Race, and Policy in January 2022: