Category: Poverty

schoolpantryFrom lame dad jokes to awkward mom hugs, parents have nearly inexhaustible means to embarrass their children in front of their friends. But when I was a young teenager my mother had a surefire way to fill me with shame and dread: ask me to buy groceries using food stamps.

In the early 1980s—an era before EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards could be disguised as a debit card—food stamps took the form of easily recognized slips of colored paper. In my small town grocery store, it was all but impossible to pay for groceries without several people from my school seeing me using food stamps and discovering my family was “on welfare.” Rather than submit to that shame, I’d have preferred to go hungry.

It’s easy to dismiss such adolescent concerns, especially for adults who have never endured the awkwardness of being a kid in poverty. But for many young people from poor families, the lack of resources is a constant source of embarrassment and stress.

That’s why it’s encouraging to discover the simple, yet innovative, approach taken by a high school in Washington, North Carolina to help such students:

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, November 17, 2015

driving-carOne of the most important socio-economic factors in America is social mobility, the ability of an individual or family to improve (or lower) their economic status. And one of the major factors in increasing social mobility is to simply increase mobility. For example, if you have to walk to work, you are limited to jobs within a few miles of your home. But if you can drive to work, the number of job opportunities available to you may increase considerably.

Most of us who have access to individual means of transportation take that connection for granted. But for the working poor, a car may not only help them get to a place of employment, it can help them drive away from poverty. For instance, a recent study finds that for low-income residents of high-poverty neighborhoods, having access to an automobile can lead to greater economic opportunities:

Poverty Inc., the new documentary that has grown out of the Acton Institute’s PovertyCure initiative, was awarded Atlas Network’s Templeton Freedom Award at an event last night in New York.

Brad Lips, chief executive of the Washington-based Atlas Network, which administers the award, said the documentary is “without question” worth the attention it is receiving. “Shining a light on an uncomfortable side of charity — where a paternalistic mindset puts the aid industry at the center of efforts to rescue the poor — Poverty, Inc. calls on us to embrace a different mental model,” he said. “The film makes a persuasive case that the most effective solutions to poverty lie in unleashing entrepreneurs to find new, innovative, and efficient ways to meet people’s needs.”

Acton Executive Director Kris Mauren said the award recognizes that the entire business of international development and foreign aid is at a tipping point. “While entrenched interests remain, mounting evidence is causing people of all political stripes to question whether their actions are really helping the poor,” he said. “This is where Poverty, Inc. comes in. Operating under the conviction that thoughtful documentaries change culture, we designed Poverty, Inc. to spearhead a broad reconsideration of poverty that is nonpartisan but pro-market.” (more…)

316853_288803591143707_552690558_nIn a recent episode of EconTalk, Russell Roberts chats with Acton Institute’s Michael Mattheson Miller about Poverty, Inc., the award-winning documentary on the challenges of poverty alleviation in the developing world.

The entire conversation is rich and varied, ranging from the ill effects of Western do-gooderism to the  dignity of work to the need for institutions of justice.

You can listen to the whole thing below:

Later in the episode, Miller discusses the need for us to reach beyond mere humanitarianism to a fuller expression of love, recognizing the dignity and capacity of every human person, as well as the full scope of human needs — material, social, spiritual, and otherwise: (more…)

Writing for a special New York Times section on giving, Alina Tugend looks at the knotty problem of how best to help those in need. She digs into things like the economics behind food pantries and how relief donations to those devastated by natural disasters often wind up making things worse.

For her story, Tugend interviewed Michael Matheson Miller, Acton research fellow and producer of the new documentary Poverty Inc.

“Look seriously into yourself,” said Michael Matheson Miller, director and producer of the documentary “Poverty Inc.,” which will be released on iTunes in December. “People ask, ‘What can I do to help poverty?’ and that’s often the wrong question. The right one is, ‘What do people need to create prosperity in their families and community and what can I do to help?’ ”

Read “When Making Donations, Know an Agency’s Needs” by Alina Tugend in the New York Times.

While you’re at it, listen to Russ Roberts and Miller talk about the new Poverty Inc. documentary on the always interesting EconTalk podcast. Here’s Roberts on the film: (more…)

homeless-1105Homelessness seems like it should be one of the most straightforward social problems to solve. The obvious solution would be to simply give people in need a place to live.

Getting people off the street and into shelter is certainly be beneficial. And in the winter months it can even save lives. But does providing housing end homelessness?

Unfortunately, as Kevin C. Corinth explains, housing people who are homeless doesn’t necessarily reduce the number of people who are homeless over the long run:

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, October 26, 2015

KillerOfSheepCarIn the critically acclaimed, though rarely seen, movie Killer of Sheep (1978) there’s a scene that highlights why being poor can be so expensive.

The film is about a black family living in the Watts section of Los Angeles in the 1970s. In an attempt to escape the drudgery of their everyday life, the family decides to join some friends one Saturday in taking a day trip out to the country. Before they can even get out of Watts, though, the car gets a flat tire. They don’t have a spare so they have to ride back home on the rim.

Not much is made of the event by the characters in the movie, but those who are poor (or have ever been poor) know exactly what it means. If they weren’t able to pay for a small repair like a flat tire they certainly won’t be able to pay for the damage that comes from a bent rim. The car will either be abandoned or be sold for scrap. Either way, it means the same thing: they no longer have a car. Life for them will became just a little bit harder, a slight more miserable.

That’s one of the worst things about begin poor: almost everything becomes a luxury good.

If you’re higher up on the economic ladder you get things fixed, whether tire or teeth, before the repairs become even worse and become more costly. But when you’re poor, even small repairs are more than you can afford. And they lead to catastrophic consequences. It’s not that you’re ignoring a situation or ignorant about the inevitable disastrous outcome. You know it’s a problem and that it’ll be an even bigger problem in the future. There’s just not much you can do about it.

Eric Ravenscraft has an excellent example of how this happens: