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New Year resolution: poverty research

/ 05:10 AM January 06, 2018

For 2018, my personal resolution is to write extensively about poverty among Filipino families, based on the plentiful SWS surveys. The data on poverty in these surveys are realistic, since they conform to the people’s standards.

I am not obsessed by international comparisons, which use the lowest possible (i.e., African) standards to improve the global picture. I don’t envy reported gains in other countries, as long as Philippine poverty is lessened compared to its own past.

The government thinks that one out of five Filipino families is poor, whereas in fact at least two out of five consider themselves poor. (See “The value of Self-Rated Poverty,” 1/9/16; “Unrealistic official poverty,” 11/12/16; and “Subjective well-being is real,” 8/12/17.)

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The SWS poverty reports have been coming out quarterly since 1992. This is the fastest survey-based system of tracking poverty in the world (see “Alert on poverty and hunger,” 12/19/17.)  The latest official poverty report, on the other hand, refers to 2015 and was released in late 2016; the next two will refer to 2018 and 2021, and will be released only in late 2019 and late 2022.

In the long term, looking across the decades of the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, the trend of poverty has been downward, but it is not a smooth trend.  It looks smooth if one uses only the official surveys, which are few and quite far (three years) apart.

But anyone examining the more plentiful SWS quarterly data will readily see that movement in poverty has actually been jagged (“Lurching economic progress,” 7/29/17).  For instance, the effect of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” of 2013 was missed by the official statistics, since Family Income and Expenditure Surveys were done only in 2012 and 2015.

SWS found: “In December 2013, the Self-rated Poverty of Yolanda victims was 72 percent. It was fully 20 points higher than the 52 percent among nonvictims, which we take as the national situation if Yolanda had not occurred.  The 3-point excess of the national Self-rated Poverty percentage of 55 from the nonvictims’ 52 is the estimated effect of Yolanda.” (See “Poverty, hunger and Yolanda,” 1/25/14.)

With its simple but effective surveys, SWS is able to quantify families’ transitions in and out of poverty, to distinguish temporary from chronic poverty, to discover how long ago a presently poor family was not poor, and how long ago a presently nonpoor family was poor. (See “In and out of poverty,” 12/2/17.)

The SWS surveys reveal the relationships of poverty to other dimensions of ill-being, such as food-poverty, hunger, dissatisfaction with life, unhappiness, illness, and disability, all of which are frequently also covered by the same surveys.

At any point in time, each dimension is always related to poverty—i.e., the poor are always worse off than the nonpoor with respect to a specific dimension. Across time, however, each dimension of ill-being does not necessarily change in the same direction as poverty.

We shall do more research on the needs of the poor, both as family units and as individuals. Food should be more than mere calories. What are their needs for electricity, water, and sanitation? What are their standards for education, transportation, and communication? Is online capability a luxury?

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To study the impact of the new tax structure on the people, SWS shall introduce survey items concerning the people’s connections to the tax changes. Let us see what actually happens to the well-being of the poor compared to the nonpoor, aside from their respective opinions about the new tax system.

Contact mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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TAGS: Filipino families, Poverty, report, surveys, SWS
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