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Changing Poverty, Changing Policies

Changing Poverty, Changing Policies

Maria Cancian
Sheldon Danziger
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Changing Poverty, Changing Policies
    Book Description:

    Poverty declined significantly in the decade after Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 declaration of “War on Poverty.” Dramatically increased federal funding for education and training programs, social security benefits, other income support programs, and a growing economy reduced poverty and raised expectations that income poverty could be eliminated within a generation. Yet the official poverty rate has never fallen below its 1973 level and remains higher than the rates in many other advanced economies. In this book, editors Maria Cancian and Sheldon Danziger and leading poverty researchers assess why the War on Poverty was not won and analyze the most promising strategies to reduce poverty in the twenty-first century economy. Changing Poverty, Changing Policies documents how economic, social, demographic, and public policy changes since the early 1970s have altered who is poor and where antipoverty initiatives have kept pace or fallen behind. Part I shows that little progress has been made in reducing poverty, except among the elderly, in the last three decades. The chapters examine how changing labor market opportunities for less-educated workers have increased their risk of poverty (Rebecca Blank), and how family structure changes (Maria Cancian and Deborah Reed) and immigration have affected poverty (Steven Raphael and Eugene Smolensky). Part II assesses the ways childhood poverty influences adult outcomes. Markus Jäntti finds that poor American children are more likely to be poor adults than are children in many other industrialized countries. Part III focuses on current antipoverty policies and possible alternatives. Jane Waldfogel demonstrates that policies in other countries—such as sick leave, subsidized child care, and schedule flexibility—help low-wage parents better balance work and family responsibilities. Part IV considers how rethinking and redefining poverty might take antipoverty policies in new directions. Mary Jo Bane assesses the politics of poverty since the 1996 welfare reform act. Robert Haveman argues that income-based poverty measures should be expanded, as they have been in Europe, to include social exclusion and multiple dimensions of material hardships. Changing Poverty, Changing Policies shows that thoughtful policy reforms can reduce poverty and promote opportunities for poor workers and their families. The authors’ focus on pragmatic measures that have real possibilities of being implemented in the United States not only provides vital knowledge about what works but real hope for change.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-598-6
    Subjects: Economics, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    M. M. C. and S. H. D.
  5. Chapter 1 Changing Poverty and Changing Antipoverty Policies
    (pp. 1-32)
    Maria Cancian and Sheldon Danziger

    It is not surprising that the severe economic downturn that began in late 2007 reduced employment and earnings and raised the official poverty rate. What many readers may find surprising, however, is that even during the long economic expansions of the 1980s and 1990s the official poverty rate remained higher than it was in 1973. Since the early 1970s, dramatic changes in the economy, in the social conditions that affect the demographic composition of the population, and in public policies have combined to reduce the antipoverty effects of economic growth. Even though gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has grown...


    • Chapter 2 Poverty Levels and Trends in Comparative Perspective
      (pp. 35-62)
      Daniel R. Meyer and Geoffrey L. Wallace

      In the 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson said, “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. . . . It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won.”¹ Yet, as we will show, total official poverty rates are not much different today than they were in the late 1960s. Even though Johnson predicted the struggle would not be “short or easy,” why has it ended up being so long and so difficult?

      In this...

    • Chapter 3 Economic Change and the Structure of Opportunity for Less-Skilled Workers
      (pp. 63-91)
      Rebecca M. Blank

      The primary source of support for most non-elderly adults comes from their employment and earnings. Hence, understanding the jobs and wages available to less-educated workers is key to understanding changes in the well-being of low-income populations. Expansions and contractions in the macroeconomy influence unemployment rates, wages, and overall economic growth, all of which are important determinants of the economic circumstances facing low-income families.

      This chapter focuses on the trends in labor market and macroeconomic circumstances that particularly affect less-educated and low-wage workers. The first section looks at changes in work behavior among individuals by skill level, the second at unemployment...

    • Chapter 4 Family Structure, Childbearing, and Parental Employment: Implications for the Level and Trend in Poverty
      (pp. 92-121)
      Maria Cancian and Deborah Reed

      Changes in family structure and changes in poverty are closely related. Single-mother families are about five times as likely to be poor as married-parent families.¹ While they are less likely to be poor than they were fifty years ago, single-parent families are more common now, accounting for a larger share of all poor families. Moreover, eligibility for income support programs, including cash welfare, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), is tied to family composition. In recent years, policymakers have sought not only to respond to family changes but also to influence the decisions that people make about...

    • Chapter 5 Immigration and Poverty in the United States
      (pp. 122-150)
      Steven Raphael and Eugene Smolensky

      Between 1970 and 2003, the proportion of U.S. residents born in another country increased from 4.8 percent to 12.4 percent. This relative increase corresponded to a sizable absolute increase in the number of foreign-born. Net international migration accounted for over one-quarter of net population growth during this period. Moreover, recent international migrants are heavily concentrated among groups with either extremely low or relatively high levels of formal educational attainment, with the group at the low end being particularly large. Many have conjectured that this large flow of immigrants has had adverse effects on the economic well-being of the least-skilled native-born...


    • Chapter 6 Enduring Influences of Childhood Poverty
      (pp. 153-179)
      Katherine Magnuson and Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal

      Poverty is a common experience for children growing up in the United States. Although only about one in five children are in poverty each year, roughly one in three will spend at least one year living in a poor household. Child poverty is a significant concern to researchers and policymakers because it is linked to a multitude of worse outcomes, including reduced academic attainment, higher rates of nonmarital childbearing, and a greater likelihood of health problems. Moreover, childhood poverty, especially when it is deep and persistent, increases the chances that a child will grow up to be poor as an...

    • Chapter 7 Mobility in the United States in Comparative Perspective
      (pp. 180-200)
      Markus Jäntti

      The United States has a much more unequal distribution of income than most developed nations. Even though it has one of the highest standards of living on average, as measured by its gross domestic product per capita, its more unequal income distribution translates into comparatively high rates of both relative poverty (50 percent of median disposable income) and absolute poverty (the official U.S. poverty thresholds) (see, for example, Meyer and Wallace, this volume; Bradbury and Jäntti 2001). Some analysts suggest that high inequality and poverty in any one year are of little public policy concern if rates of mobility are...


    • Chapter 8 Trends in Income Support
      (pp. 203-241)
      John Karl Scholz, Robert Moffitt and Benjamin Cowan

      Antipoverty programs are designed to mitigate the most pernicious aspects of market-based economic outcomes—unemployment, disability, low earnings, and other material hardship. These programs compose society’s “safety net,” and each has different eligibility standards and benefit formulas. While the programs can be aggregated and categorized to summarize trends in coverage and generosity, a consequence of their patchwork nature is that the safety net may appear different to a family in one set of circumstances than it does to a family in another.

      Social insurance programs—Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation—are costly programs with much larger numbers...

    • Chapter 9 The Role of Family Policies in Antipoverty Policy
      (pp. 242-265)
      Jane Waldfogel

      Families are changing. In 1975 two-thirds of American children had a stay-at-home parent. Today only about one-quarter of children do: 20 percent live with two parents only one of whom works, while 6 percent live with single or married parents who do not work (see table 9.1). Fully half live with two parents who both work, while one-quarter (24 percent) live with a single parent who works.¹

      Low-income families are changing too. Today most children in low-income families have working parents, like their more affluent peers. Only 38 percent of children in families with incomes below 200 percent of the...

    • Chapter 10 Improving Educational Outcomes for Poor Children
      (pp. 266-300)
      Brian A. Jacob and Jens Ludwig

      One of the best ways to avoid being poor as an adult is to obtain a good education. As Katherine Magnuson and Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal’s chapter in this volume notes, people who have higher levels of academic achievement and more years of schooling earn more than those with lower levels of human capital. This is not surprising in light of the belief by economists that schooling makes people more productive and that wages are related to productivity.

      Yet in modern America poor children face an elevated risk for a variety of adverse educational outcomes. In the 2007 National Assessment of Educational...

    • Chapter 11 Workforce Development as an Antipoverty Strategy: What Do We Know? What Should We Do?
      (pp. 301-329)
      Harry J. Holzer

      Over the past few decades, the gaps in earnings between more- and less-educated American workers have widened. The number of adult workers in low-wage jobs has risen, partly because of the growingsupplyof these workers, associated with welfare reform and immigration (among other forces), and partly because of growingdemandfor these workers in low-paying jobs (Autor, Katz, and Kearney 2006). And at least among less-educated and minority men, the numbers with criminal records and other characteristics that make them “hard to employ” has risen dramatically as well.

      A consensus has developed among economists and policy analysts on the...

    • Chapter 12 Health Care for the Poor: For Whom, What Care, and Whose Responsibility?
      (pp. 330-364)
      Katherine Swartz

      Americans’ efforts to help poor people obtain medical care have evolved as the country has grown richer and as medicine has become capable of increasing life expectancy and improving quality of life. That evolution has not been a direct path of increased generosity toward poor people. Instead, it reflects a mix of philosophical beliefs, greater understanding of the links between health and ability to work, and swings in the economy that have made Americans alternately more and less willing to help pay for poor people’s medical care.

      Since the late 1940s, when the share of Americans with employer-sponsored, private health...


    • Chapter 13 Poverty Politics and Policy
      (pp. 367-386)
      Mary Jo Bane

      In 1992, “ending welfare as we know it” was an important theme in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. It polled well and was consistent with other aspects of the New Democrat agenda that Clinton was campaigning on, an agenda that also included “making work pay” and “reinventing government.” Candidate Clinton talked a good deal about welfare in the context of an approach to poverty that emphasized work and responsibility.

      In May 2008, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were neck and neck for the Democratic nomination, neither of their campaign websites mentioned welfare. Both had issue papers on poverty: Clinton’s was...

    • Chapter 14 What Does It Mean to Be Poor in a Rich Society?
      (pp. 387-408)
      Robert Haveman

      In 2007, Mollie Orshansky, whose contributions led to the nation’s official poverty measure, passed away. Given the data available in the early 1960s, the Orshansky poverty measure—based on family money income and an absolute poverty threshold—made perfect sense. President Lyndon Johnson had declared a War on Poverty in 1964, and the nation needed a statistical picture of the poor. Although she recognized the criticisms of her measure,¹ the concept of absolute income poverty as well as the nation’s official measure of poverty can be directly traced to her contributions.²

      Since that time, the U.S. official poverty measure has...

  10. Index
    (pp. 409-428)