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  • Joanne Jacobs

Poverty is down, but can they fish?


"A River Runs Through It" (1992), set in Montana, boosted interest in fly fishing.

Fewer people are living in poverty, but not because they're earning more, writes Jon Baron on The Hill. We're doing better at giving money to the poor, but not at helping them climb out of poverty.

To paraphrase the proverb, we are giving people fish, but not enhancing their capacity to fish for themselves. Furthermore, our expansion of safety net payments carries the risk of damaging work incentives and inadvertently reinforcing the poverty cycle. Indeed, there is evidence from randomized trials that at least some government payment programs, such as housing vouchers and possibly cash transfers, cause people to work and earn less.

The decline in the Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure, which includes a “sharp” “stunning” drop in child poverty, "stems from an increase in government payments to low-income people through safety net programs such as food stamps, housing and earnings subsidies and the child tax credit," writes Baron "Poverty measures that instead focus on people’s earned income" show "no overall progress on poverty since the 1970s."


Many federal anti-poverty programs, such as Head Start and Job Corps "produce small or no lasting improvements in participants’ lives," writes Baron, who founded the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy.

There are success stories. Job training programs that partner with local employers, such as Per Scholas and Year Up, increase long-term earnings significantly, he writes. "Career Academies in high-poverty schools, providing students with hands-on technical and career training as part of a small learning community, increase long-term earnings by $3,000 per year."


Increasing funding for education and training won't pay off, he concludes, unless we focus on what works.


The push for universal basic income goes the other way: Everyone will get "money for nothing," as Dire Straits put it.


Americans are losing their work ethic, writes Matt Welch in Reason. In particular, men are leaving the workforce, says American Enterprise Institute economist Nicholas Eberstadt. They're not "working in community gardens or brushing up on their Schopenhauer or whatever. What this trend has meant is slower economic growth for the country, wider income and wealth gaps, more dependence on government welfare programs, more pressure on fragile families, less social mobility, less involvement in society, and a lot more deaths of despair."


Who's working? Immigrants.

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