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.
Collis, Conway, David Grusky, Sara Kimberlin, Courtney Powers, Sandra Sanchez, Marion Coddou, Erin Cumberworth, Jonathan Fisher, Jared Futura, Jasmine Hill, Molly King, Yana Kucheva, Ryan Leupp, Ana Matosantos, Natassia Rodriguez, and Rachel Wright. 2015. “Reducing Poverty in California… Permanently.” Pathways: a magazine on poverty, inequality, and social policy: Winter.
Reprinted with permission.