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Book Presents Model for Anti-Poverty Policies

February 6, 2007 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- In 1994, Milwaukee community activists and city business leaders launched an experimental anti-poverty program called New Hope that aimed to make employment truly “work” for its participants and their families. Now the researchers who rigorously evaluated New Hope say the project can serve as a model for anti-poverty policies at the national and state levels.

“New Hope was all about supporting efforts to sustain full time work,” says Greg J. Duncan, professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University and a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research. “Although no elements of the program were directly targeted at the children of its participants, we found that they, too, benefited significantly from New Hope.”

Duncan is co-author, with Aletha C. Huston and Thomas S. Weisner, of “Higher Ground: New Hope for the Working Poor and their Children” (Russell Sage Foundation, 2007). Their book goes beyond statistical reports and surveys to tell the stories of some of New Hope's participants and how New Hope affected them and their families.

“If you work, you should not be poor” was New Hope's guiding tenet. In essence it was a social contract and not a welfare program. In exchange for working a minimum of 30 hours a week, participants were eligible for subsidized health and child care and for earnings supplements that would bring their incomes above the poverty line. 

“New Hope offers some of the strongest evidence to date that work supports make a difference in the lives of people in low-wage jobs,” says Duncan. What's more, the program not only increased income and employment but also improved the school achievement and behavior of children in New Hope families.

“Few social policies -- even those directly aimed at children -- are able to match the benefits New Hope children experienced, particularly among boys,” Duncan says. “That's significant because boys are at the greatest risk for behavioral problems and poor academic achievement.” Enrollment in child care centers and participation in out-of-school activities also increased.

“While all families struggle with the balance between work and family needs, the challenges are all the more daunting for those adults employed in low-wage jobs with few if any benefits,” says Duncan. “Higher Ground” explains how policy makers can make working in these low-wage jobs pay off for the adults in them and for the children in their lives.

For more about “Higher Ground: New Hope for the Working Poor and their Children, http://www.russellsage.org/publications/070104.061100/book_view.

Topics: People