Are we going to allow ourselves to believe that ‘nothing works’ in combating poverty, and, so, resign ourselves to a large population of those without, when there is evidence all around us that policy makes a huge difference in the lives of vulnerable people?
We must not.
When I talk in class about how reductions in poverty among older adults serve as evidence that policy can fight poverty, and, then, that it’s our failure to invest similarly in other populations, not lack of any ideas about what might help, that explains the perpetuation of poverty among, say, single-female headed households, I can almost see the lightbulbs going off.
Similarly, the economic expansion of the late 1990s, fueled in part by deliberate policy changes, showed that even child poverty is amenable to targeted intervention. Improving the Earned Income Tax Credit (lowering the eligibility age, providing a more adequate benefit to childless workers) would reduce poverty among working Americans whose economic instability has significant ripples in our social conditions.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits lifted 4 million Americans out of poverty in 2012; cuts to eligibility in many states will have a direct effect on poverty rates.
Social Security keeps more than 12 million Americans out of poverty each year, and there’s no reason we can’t see similar outcomes from investing in a concerted anti-poverty approach for younger Americans, too.
This is an adaptive problem, not a technical one.
We need political will far more than new ideas.
If we don’t, we’re being made fools of.
And not just today.