Consumption, Income, and the Well-Being of Families and Children

May 4-5, 2006
Washington, DC.

Conference main page | Agenda and papers | Additional project details


Traditional measures of poverty are based on income: if income is below a given threshold, then the family is determined to be poor. Some economists have suggested that a family's well-being is better measured by their total spending rather than their total income. That is, some families can have a satisfactory standard of living even if they have low current income. This may be due to the fact that the family can support consumption by drawing down assets.

At the same time, some empirical evidence suggests that low-income families with little or no assets are able to maintain consumption patterns that exceed their reported income. One possibility is that these low-income families are establishing credit card debt or borrowing on the equity in their home, perhaps jeopardizing their future financial security. Alternatively, these families may be receiving assistance from family and friends to buffer their low income.

In consultation with leading researchers and analysts on this topic, the NPC has identified a number of high priority areas and identified scholars whom we commissioned to write original research papers. The papers will be presented at a conference to be held in Washington, D.C., May 4-5, 2006. We anticipate 20-30 scholars from universities and think tanks to participate in the final conference, along with interested government agency staff and researchers. The papers undertaken by NPC researchers and the commissioned papers will be presented and discussed.

Agenda and conference papers

Click here for the conference agenda and copies of the commissioned papers.

Sponsors and organizers

The project is supported by funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

The research project and conference are organized for the National Poverty Center by University of Michigan faculty members:

Robert Schoeni, Associate Director of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, and Associate Professor in the Department of Economics and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Sheldon Danziger, Co-director of the NPC and Henry J. Meyer Distinguished University Professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Kerwin K. Charles, Emmett Dedmon Visiting Professor, the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago; Associate Professor of Economics and Public Policy, University of Michigan.

For More Information

Please contact the National Poverty Center at