Changing Poverty and Changing Antipoverty Policies

June 2010
Maria Cancian, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Sheldon Danziger, University of Michigan

Since the early 1970s, dramatic changes in the economy, demographic composition of the population and in public policies have combined to reduce the antipoverty effects of economic growth. Because economic growth is now necessary, but not sufficient, to significantly reduce poverty, antipoverty policies must be expanded and reformed, especially in the aftermath of the severe recession that began in late 2007.

The authors review three cross-cutting factors that shape the extent and nature of poverty and prospects for reducing poverty: the changing role of race and ethnicity in the labor market and society; changing gender roles that influence both trends in labor force participation of women and patterns of family formation and childbearing; and the recent history of social welfare programs and policies. They conclude by recommending a set of high priority antipoverty policies that are consistent with current trends in work effort, patterns of family formation, and continuing changes in how the globalized economy affects the employment and earnings prospects of less-educated workers. These policies focus on making work pay, helping parents balance work and family responsibilities, and raising the educational attainment of disadvantaged children. They also briefly summarize the other chapters in the forthcoming Changing Poverty volume.