Jonathan Rauch: Dos And Do-nots

As with almost everything that Jonathan Rauch writes, including this recent Atlantic Monthly article on genetically modified food, this National Journal article on dos and do-nots instead of haves and have-nots is utterly insicisive and insightful. He does a nice job of summarizing research on poverty that has moved beyond the convictions of the early 1990s that any attempt at a behavioral explanation for poverty was “blaming the victim”, focusing on recent research from Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins of Brookings.

In their new paper, she and Haskins use detailed census data and statistical modeling to simulate what would happen if the poor worked as many hours as the nonpoor, at jobs matching the workers’ actual qualifications. The result: Full-time work would reduce the poverty rate from today’s 13 percent to 7.5 percent — almost half. …

The bigger surprise, however, was yet to come. Sawhill and Haskins then simulated a doubling of all welfare benefits, much more than anyone seriously contemplates. The result? Poverty dropped from 13 percent to 12 percent. The meter barely jiggled. Even a massive welfare increase would have less effect than any one of four kinds of behavioral change.

Very interesting findings. Thanks to
Eugene Volokh for the pointer, as well as for posting the Reason archive link to the article that will allow free access to it after October 1, 2003.