A week ago today the city of Baltimore was set ablaze by its own citizens. The media storm following the protests and riots is the latest in a string of events that continue to orient our attention as a society to the lack of economic and social opportunity in America
David Brooks, an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, wrote an excellent piece on “The Nature of Poverty” a week ago. Brooks draws attention to the importance of the social dynamics that undercut attempts to improve the conditions of urban poor through increased spending and policy solutions.
What Brooks notes in his article, and many others recognize, is that when dealing with poverty, one must deal with the causes of poverty and the psychological and developmental effects of poverty. One-size-fits-all programs fail to do justice to the ways in which individual circumstances vary. Some people have short-term needs – such as gas to get to work – while others need more structured and long-term oriented assistance – such as acquiring the skills necessary to compete in a very competitive job market. This requires panoply of social programs specifically targeted to lift people out of poverty for good.
A safety net in good working order is crucial to a healthy economy, but poor families don’t just need help – they need the right kind of help. Giving people money really does make them better off. Yes, it’s better to have more money to buy groceries and other basic necessities, but improving inequality through handouts has no consistent correlation with upward mobility.
Baltimore is the perfect example of the fact that getting more money from the government doesn’t really make you less poor, and a testament to the fact that poverty is enabled to linger through the impoverishment of our social relations.
Click here to read Brooks’ article.
Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Row Houses, Baltimore, Maryland.