In the midst of America’s riches, too many families still struggle for economic survival. The poor in American cut across all groups, but are disproportionately represented by single mothers and their children, by persons of color, by immigrants, by less-skilled individuals, or by those with physical or mental disabilities. Many working poor and near-poor families face problems with low wages or unstable jobs. This paper outlines three strategic areas where policy and research attention should focus over the next decade. These are areas where we need to understand more about the problems and the possible strategies that can help increase income, alleviate economic suffering, or improve children’s long-term opportunities. Throughout this paper, I use the word ‘policy’ in a broad sense, to refer to public actions that can be taken by state, local or national government, or to the actions of community-based or religious organizations.
I choose to focus on three areas that are defined by the type of anti-poverty strategies that they encompass. In each of these areas, there are important cross-cutting issues that deal with race, ethnicity or citizenship, gender, disability, or age-specific concerns. This paper is too brief to discuss how these particular subgroups are affected in each policy area, but such an analysis would be important for a more complete policy discussion. While this paper focuses on the issue of poverty, I should also note that action in these strategic areas would substantially benefit both poor and near-poor families. With the poverty line at $20,400 for a family of four, many near-poor families also struggle to make ends meet.
In all of the areas identified below, there are multiple groups working on various agendas, from educational reform to tax reform. Mott will want to focus on a selected set of issues where they can leverage their resources in the most effective way. For each topic, I suggest a few specific policy issues that I think are highly important and where grant-making activities within the Pathways Out of Poverty group at Mott could help advance the agenda.
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