Multidimensional Poverty Across the Life Cycle: The United States as an Empirical Example

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Book Chapter

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Routledge International Handbook of Poverty


We consider the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) as a complement to traditional (i.e., income- and consumption-based) poverty measures. To demonstrate the usefulness of the MPI, we present an empirical example of deprivation in the United States across the life cycle. Examining annual data from the American Community Survey’s Public Use Microdata Sample, we document the incidence of multidimensional poverty as well as the intensity and forms of deprivation experienced by U.S. residents during the period from 2008-2017. Considerable variation is found across the life cycle as well as across the dimensions and indicators that comprise the MPI. Our findings provide a detailed portrait of multidimensional poverty in the U.S. and illustrate the benefits of multidimensional analysis for the development of public policies that seek to reduce poverty. For instance, counterfactual analysis indicates that universal health insurance would have decreased the number of U.S. residents who lived in multidimensional poverty in 2017 by as many as 3.95 million individuals (i.e., a 17.1% reduction in incidence). During the same year, the presence of both universal health insurance and household income levels at/above 130 percent of the poverty level would have decreased the number of U.S. residents suffering multidimensional deprivation by up to 13.55 million individuals (i.e., a 58.7% decrease in multidimensional poverty incidence).