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Changing Poverty, Changing Policies

Maria Cancian, Sheldon Danziger

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi

Changing Poverty is the fifth in a series of edited volumes sponsored by the Institute for Research on Poverty that evaluate the nature of poverty and the scope of antipoverty polices. The first volume, A Decade of Federal Antipoverty Programs: Achievements, Failures, and Lessons, edited by Robert H. Haveman, ...

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Chapter 1. Changing Poverty and Changing Antipoverty Policies

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pp. 1-31

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 ...

Part 1. Economic Changes, Demographic Changes, and Trends in Poverty

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Chapter 2. Poverty Levels and Trends in Comparative Perspective

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pp. 35-62

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, ...

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Chapter 3. Economic Change and the Structure of Opportunity for Less-Skilled Workers

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pp. 63-91

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 ...

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Chapter 4. Family Structure, Childbearing, and Parental Employment: Implications for the Level and Trend in Poverty

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pp. 92-121

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 ...

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Chapter 5. Immigration and Poverty in the United States

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pp. 122-150

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 ...

Part 2. Mobility and Its Consequences

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Chapter 6. Enduring Influences of Childhood Poverty

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pp. 153-179

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 ...

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Chapter 7. Mobility in the United States in Comparative Perspective

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pp. 180-200

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 ...

Part 3. The Evolution and Scope of Antipoverty Policies

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Chapter 8. Trends in Income Support

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pp. 203-241

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 ...

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Chapter 9. The Role of Family Policies in Antipoverty Policy

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pp. 242-265

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 ...

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Chapter 10. Improving Educational Outcomes for Poor Children

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pp. 266-300

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 ...

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Chapter 11. Workforce Development as an Antipoverty Strategy:What Do We Know? What Should We Do?

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pp. 301-329

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 growing supply of these workers, associated with welfare reform and immigration (among other forces), and partly because ...

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Chapter 12. Health Care for the Poor: For Whom, What Care, and Whose Responsibility?

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pp. 330-376

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 ...

Part 4. The Politics of Poverty and Its Meaning in a Rich Country

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Chapter 13. Poverty Politics and Policy

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pp. 367-386

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 ...

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Chapter 14. What Does It Mean to Be Poor in a Rich Society?

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pp. 387-408

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 ...


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pp. 409-422

E-ISBN-13: 9781610445986
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871543103

Page Count: 440
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Public welfare -- United States -- History.
  • Economic assistance, Domestic -- United States -- History.
  • Poverty -- United States -- History.
  • Poverty -- Government policy -- United States -- History.
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