I spent the day visiting an inspiring community in Atlanta last week. East Lake is living proof that a comprehensive approach to poverty—one that considers more than housing, more than just income, more than just a job, and more than just a good school, but all of those elements combined—can make a lasting impact on children’s lives.
My host was Carol R. Naughton, president of Purpose Built Communities in Atlanta, and we were standing on the playground in an Atlanta neighborhood once so awful that it was called Little Vietnam for its war zone qualities. As the former mayor Shirley Franklin told me, “Even I didn’t want to drive through there.”
Poverty is a hard nut to crack. We’ve been at it (half-heartedly) for more than two-hundred years now, our solutions swinging between “fix them” (“them” in this case being poor people) to “fix the root causes.” Advocates who claim that poverty hurts children are countered by others who say “it’s not poverty, it’s single-parent families or character” or any number of other explanations. And of course, the hoary argument of who is “deserving” of support has a long and storied history, evident still today in the lopsided support for the “working poor” at the expense of those who aren’t.
All of these arguments are not just hot air or academic diversions. After all, if you believe the problem is a single mother’s character, “the fix” will be very different than if you think the problem of single-parent families stems from a lack of marriageable men because good paying jobs have disappeared. Look no further than the difference between Republicans and Democrats in their policy proposals.
To date, it’s been a he-said/she-said argument, and the pendulum has swung regularly between the two camps. The he said/she said persists for a simple reason. It’s very hard to prove either argument. You can’t get very far into these debates with correlational evidence only, which is what we have.
But we may be on the brink of a “smoking gun” of evidence that could put this argument to rest. [More]