What Is Your Future Risk of Poverty?

Faculty; Research

Donald Trump won the presidency last fall in part by tapping into economic fear and the income insecurity that has been growing in America for years, due largely to the loss of good-paying jobs.

While many of us worry about our finances from time to time, is there a way to determine what might be our future risk of going into poverty?

A newly-redesigned poverty risk calculator, developed by two renowned experts on economic hardship, can determine for the first time an American’s expected risk of poverty based on their race, education level, gender, marital status and age.

“During the campaign, millions of Americans were attracted to President Trump’s message, which was aimed at restoring jobs and reducing economic insecurity,” said Mark Rank, the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare at the Brown School. He designed the calculator with Thomas Hirschl, professor in the Department of Developmental Sociology at Cornell University.

“Were these Americans wrong to be attracted to such a message? Based on this new economic tool, absolutely not,” Rank said. “Many Americans will now be able to estimate the sizeable amount of economic insecurity that they will face in the future.”

Constructed from hundreds of thousands of case records taken from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, an ongoing longitudinal study of Americans begun in 1968, the calculator estimates the percentage of Americans who will experience poverty in the next 5, 10 or 15 years. The poverty line for a family of four in 2015 was approximately $24,000.

Originally designed in 2016, the updated calculator and website has added a number of new features allowing Americans to explore various aspects of poverty and inequality in the United States.

“In this era of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news,’ it is even more important for Americans to be able to use solid research in helping to guide their futures,” Rank said. “For the first time, individuals can now estimate their potential risk of poverty.”

The risk calculator works on the same principles as the heart disease calculators found widely across the Internet. Like those tools, the poverty risk calculator reveals wide disparities in life outcomes depending upon an individual’s background characteristics — ranging from a 2-percent risk of poverty up to a 90-percent chance of poverty during a 15-year window.

Rank and Hirschl are co-authors of the influential 2014 book, “Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes.”

The poverty risk calculator can be found at confrontingpoverty.org.