Changing Poverty, Changing Policies
by Maria Cancian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A very solid compendium of facts and figures on poverty and poverty policy. Well worth reading, if like me, you're interested in the subject but haven't necessarily followed all the research closely.
The book gives an excellent overview of the impact that the welfare reform of the mid-90s and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) have had on poverty. The picture is mixed. On the one hand, wages from work are now the single biggest source of income for poor families, instead of cash welfare assistance. It does seem that these reforms have been successful in increasing work among the poor. On the other hand, these reforms haven't done much to decrease poverty or to make the average poor family much better off. Poverty levels have basically fluctuated according to the overall state of the economy, and the average poor family is slightly worse off, in an income sense, than they were before welfare reform.
There are some interesting chapters on education and job training, which challenge the conventional wisdom that "nothing works", although they do point out that there is very little rigorous data on what works.
There's a short but fascinating chapter on the politics of poverty policy. It notes that Americans in general have strikingly negative attitudes towards "the poor" (whom they regard as people who don't work) and towards tax increases of any kind, but increasingly favorable attitudes towards ideas like "helping people who can't help themselves" or even "the government should guarantee a minimum standard of food and shelter for everyone." This suggests that by reframing the debate on poverty, or by making Americans more aware that the majority of the non-disabled non-elderly poor do work, you might actually garner political support for a renewed attack on poverty. View all my reviews >>