What’s Missing in Poverty Policy The answer to these critical questions lies not in what is contained in current rural development policy, but rather in what is missing from, These historical approaches. Programs that gave direct aid to the poor in such areas as housing and income support were generally intended to raise their standards of living and stave off the worst consequences of poverty, thus maintaining their livelihoods at more acceptable levels. But these programs did little or nothing to address the causes of poverty or provide either incentives or means to escape it, and poverty remains at shockingly high levels in many rural areas of the U.S. What is missing in rural policy is a concerted effort to engage individuals and communities in poverty in their own economic and social enhancement. What is missing is the willingness to face up to the root causes of poverty, which are often an outgrowth of historic and contemporary social divisions that cut the poor out of opportunities to share power, equal opportunities and, in the end, hope. To see that this is so, we have only to glance backward to whence much of today’s poverty derived—in the economic, geographic, racial and social segregation that was established early in our history, often even before our Republic began. Poverty in America today is concentrated in Appalachia, among Blacks and whites in the former plantation and slaveholding areas of the South, among Native American populations on and off reservations and in the Southwest and other areas where persons of color and Hispanic culture are numerous. If exclusion from power is a major factor in creating and sustaining poverty, another is the pervasiveness and entanglement of its root causes. Access to critical services has come last to those who can least afford to provide for themselves. Nearly all rural Americans now have running water, but only because of major investments over the last three decades, and even now some areas—often high poverty areas—are getting this service for the first time. Housing quality has been greatly improved, but housing affordability is a critical issue for many rural Americans because wages and salaries, even for those who work full-time or more, are insufficient. Education has improved, but without meaningful job opportunities in their communities, many of the better educated leave for the cities to achieve lifestyles impossible at home. Transportation provides improved access to regional cities and shopping malls, but further drains local economies of retail dollars and empties small town downtowns of vitality. Those with the least income find it hard to reach those shopping opportunities, or jobs that would help them out, because limited mass transportation is available. Traditional rural development policies don’t address the powerlessness and lack of hope that are handed down from one generation to the next. Nor do they ordinarily touch root causes, instead tackling limited issues that are symptoms and consequences of the underlying disease of poverty; even then, they do so serially and incompletely. While traditional rural development programs certainly meet worthy and pressing needs and enhance the lives of the impoverished, they frequently contribute little or nothing to alleviating the causes of poverty. As a result, they leave the impoverished vulnerable to a continued existence on the margin of society. Nor do traditional macroeconomic policies have much likelihood of reducing poverty in rural areas where poverty and race are conjoined. In a recent study of poverty and the macroeconomy, Michael LeBlanc finds macroeconomic growth has been less successful in reducing poverty since the mid-1970s than it had been in earlier decades. Changes in wage rates have more important effects on long term reductions in poverty, but more so for white households than Black households. He concludes that the results of his analysis “weaken the belief that output growth acting alone will significantly and permanently reduce poverty in the United States.” The results suggest instead the need for “complementing growth strategies with targeted interventions that lie outside the traditional system of monetary and fiscal policy.” A lot more here if interested; http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/ezec/Pubs/Empowerment_Paper_CDS_02.pdf The Empowerment Approach to Tackling Poverty The best way to directly bring about lasting reductions in poverty is to eliminate the social and geographic isolation in which it is rooted. To do so requires more than categorical investments in infrastructure and businesses inside community boundaries, which has often been thought to be the objective of rural development policy, to building real communities themselves, through holistic and integrative methods. Eliminating poverty is more than raising wages and incomes. It also requires changing beliefs and local institutions—both formal and informal--that retard development or restrict it from benefiting the poor. One approach that addresses these shortfalls is the community empowerment process. Still it is empowerment itself that is the major goal—the ability of communities without belief in a different future to push through their doubts to gain the confidence and the skills to achieve the seemingly impossible.