Fighting Poverty through Incentives and Work Mandates for Young Men

September 1, 2007


This brief examines two sets of public policies – wage subsidies and work requirements- that hold promise for helping young men increase their employment and earnings and which could alleviate many social problems, including crime, unemployment, nonmartial births, and poverty.


It would be hard to imagine an environment less conducive to socialization than the one in which millions of boys in America grow up. Chief among the traditional agents and institutions by which a society nurtures its children and youth is the two-parent family. In a passage written in 1965 that has shaped thinking but not public policy for more than four decades, Daniel Patrick Moynihan foresaw the looming problem of boys growing up in femaleheaded families: “A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken homes, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos.”

The decline of the family is not solely responsible for the rise in poverty, school dropout, and other problems associated with young men. Historically, the socialization efforts of the family have been supplemented and reinforced by schools, churches, peer groups, and civic groups and associations. But many of these forces for transmitting positive values and behavior are in decline, especially in low-income communities. Not only do half of all children and up to 85 percent of black children spend a considerable part of their childhood in a female-headed family, usually without the direct, day-to-day benefit of paternal influence, but many of them attend ineffective (some would say terrible) schools, which, far from providing a haven for healthy social relationships and learning, are often not even physically safe. The neighborhoods in which these children live are likewise often dangerous. Fears of crime and violence, aggravated by a lack of resources and committed adults, have caused extracurricular activities traditionally sponsored by schools and other community organizations to wither.