One idea for fighting poverty is a "universal basic income," essentially payments to people to ensure that they remain above a monetary poverty line. One commentator in The Week derides the idea, however:
"The only type of welfare policy that reliably gets people who can work into work is a welfare policy with work requirements. All the evidence strongly suggests that if you have a UBI, the outcome is exactly what many conservatives fear will happen: Millions of people who could work won't, just listing away in socially destructive idleness (with the consequences of this lost productivity reverberating throughout the society in lower growth and, probably, lower employment, in a UBI-enabled vicious cycle)."
See the whole article for his perspective on research about why the universal basic income can't work.
New research sheds a different light on inequality in the United States. Certainly African-Americans all too often have unequal access to jobs, education, and civil rights compared to white Americans. Good news might seem to be that the income gap between black and white Americans has lessened in recent decades--but even that story masks persistent disparities.
"When you zero in on income, African Americans would seem to have gained significant ground since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Today, for instance, the difference between the percentage of white and black households earning $50,000 and $75,000 is within shouting distance—18.7 for whites versus 15.1 percent for blacks, according to the Census Bureau. But look at the respective wealth of white and black America, and you get the real story. In 1984, the median working-age white family had inflation-adjusted assets worth $90,851, compared with a net worth of only $5,781 for the median black family of working age. (Focusing on working-age families yields a subject group older and relatively more prosperous than the aggregate but is easier to track over time; the inequality ratio for the overall white and black populations is actually even higher.) A quarter century later, the median white wealth had jumped to $265,000, while median black wealth was just $28,500. The racial wealth gap among working-age families, in other words, is a stunning $236,500, and there is every reason to believe that figure has widened in the five years since."
What to do about this problem? The article in the New Republic has a number of suggestions, including "baby bonds," an asset accumulation program that would start at birth, with subsidies for households below median wealth. It's a provocative perspective on the disadvantages that blacks can endure compared to whites, and how possibly to correct such historic injustices.
Research over the last few years has shown that poverty actually impedes people's thinking. It's just harder to think clearly and methodically when you're under the stress of poverty. Here's a great infographic that presents some relevant data.
A new study from the Economic Policy Institute reports findings on how economic growth is not a panacea to reduce poverty. As an article in the New York Times explains,
"From 1959 to 1973, a more robust United States economy and fewer people living below the poverty line went hand-in-hand. That relationship broke apart in the mid-1970s. If the old relationship between growth and poverty had held up, the E.P.I. researchers find, the poverty rate in the United States would have fallen to zero by 1986 and stayed there ever since."
That is not what happened, of course. The lesson this article takes from the evidence is that policymakers need to rethink poverty reduction:
"If you want to address poverty in the United States, it’s not enough to say that you need to create better incentives for lower-income people to work. You also have to devise strategies that make the benefits of a stronger economy show up in the wages of the people on the edge of poverty, who need it most desperately."
A new book by Karl Alexander reports on thirty years of research on a poor community in Baltimore. The results are further confirmation of limited social mobility in the US. In short, if you're born poor, you'll almost certainly die poor. This is an excerpt from a Mother Jones article about Alexander's book:
"Alexander's findings conflict with the sort of Horatio Alger stories of American mythology, but not with other social science research on upward mobility. His are especially dispiriting. Of the nearly 800 school kids he's been following for 30 years, those who got a better start—because their parents were working or married—tended to stay better off, while the more disadvantaged stayed poor.
Out of the original 800 public school children he started with, 33 moved from low-income birth family to a high-income bracket by the time they neared 30. Alexander found that education, rather than giving kids a fighting chance at a better life, simply preserved privilege across generations. Only 4 percent of the low-income kids he met in 1982 had college degrees when he interviewed them at age 28, whereas 45 percent of the kids from higher-income backgrounds did."
Read the whole article, or look at the book.
The American Dream may have always been more myth than reality, but it appears that it's more myth than ever these days. The Canadian middle class is now doing better than the American middle class.
"Yet today the American dream has derailed, partly because of growing inequality. Or maybe the American dream has just swapped citizenship, for now it is more likely to be found in Canada or Europe — and a central issue in this year’s political campaigns should be how to repatriate it.
A report last month in The Times by David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy noted that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world, with Canada apparently pulling ahead in median after-tax income. Other countries in Europe are poised to overtake us as well."
See Nicholas Kristof's full op-ed.
On May 11th, the Poverty Education Center hosted "Jesuit Universities Engaging Poverty: Perspectives from Seattle and Managua." The event brought together students, faculty, staff, and community members to hear from Seattle University and la Universidad Centroamericana about how they were engaging poverty in their communities.
Poverty Education Center