Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date

Spring 2015


Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality


If California were to seriously commit to equalizing opportunity and reducing poverty, how might that commitment best be realized?

This is of course a hypothetical question, as there is no evidence that California is poised to make such a serious commitment, nor have many other states gone much beyond the usual lip-service proclamations. There are many reasons for California’s complacency, but an important one is that most people think that poverty is intractable and that viable solutions to it simply don’t exist.

When Californians know what needs to be done, they tend to go forward and get it done. When, for example, the state’s roads are in disrepair, there are rarely paralyzing debates about exactly how to go about fixing them; instead we proceed with the needed repairs as soon as the funds to do so are appropriated. The same type of sure and certain prescription might appear to be unavailable when it comes to reducing poverty. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices yielding a thick stream of narrow-gauge interventions, new evaluations, and piecemeal proposals.1

Although the research literature on poverty is indeed large and may seem confusing, recent advances have in fact been so fundamental that it is now possible to develop a science-based response to poverty. In the past, the causes of poverty were not well understood, and major interventions, such as the War on Poverty, had to be built more on hunch than science. It is an altogether different matter now. The causes of poverty are well established, and the effects of many possible policy responses to poverty are likewise well established. The simple purpose of this essay is to assemble these advances into a coherent plan that would, if implemented, reduce poverty in California substantially.


Reprinted with permission.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.