Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Poverty Fighting in Big Apple

"The Bloomberg administration's anti poverty effort is neither a hollow gesture nor a crusade...It boasts bold thinking. [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg brings good intentions, modest budgets and limited scope to the battle. A million and a half people wait to see if that's enough."

Neil deMause,"Building a Better Bootstrap: Can Mayor Bloomberg Really Take Poverty One Incentive at a Time," City Limits, Spring 2008.

NYC is the most ambitious of crop of state and local efforts to emulate the UK and set and achieve poverty reduction targets. Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, and the voice of Senator John Edwards, have contributed to all the Presidential candidates offering their versions of how to fight poverty. After forty-five years, it is again politically fashionable to become a "poverty warrior." About time!

The spring 2008 issue of City Limits shines a light on the early progress of Bloomberg's poverty fight in NYC lead by the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO).

I have a few reactions I want to share about the NYC effort in the context of the broader debate about poverty.

1) NYC is impressive in the scope and scale of poverty initiatives. If nothing else, it's a tribute to public sector capacity and inventiveness. Other local and state governments should emulate.

2)Alice O'Conner in Poverty Knowledge describes the evolution of US poverty policy from structural approaches to influencing individual behaviors. NYC reflects the overall trend, trying to nudge people upward while not toying with wages, job quality, or developer pregrogatives. NYC thankfully recognizes that "We're not going to solve poverty on our own...without broader forces helping."

3. The US may not want more immigrants but it certainly wants the poor to bootstrap themselves up like immigrants, with a little help from poverty warriors. NYC imported a version of Oportunidades from Mexico, which for ten years has provided small bonuses for changed behaviors deemed important. Mayor Bloomberg notes about the NYC version, Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT): "Its designed to encourage parents and young people to take positive action to stay in school, to stay healthy and increase earnings. CCT is being evaluated by MDRC.

4. NYC has joined the effort to come up with more meaningful measures of poverty and, in fact, may help spur national action. A challenge with any poverty measure is to figure out the tipping points for the likely income effects on family quality of life, security, and confidence.

5. A thought experiment: Sometimes I wonder what would happen if communities were simply saturated with access to good jobs with benefits, child care, affordable housing, family-focused education and skill development. Would the cost add up to $3 trillion?

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