Cross-posted from the MACDC Making Connections Blog
Community developers, like others fighting to improve the lives of low and moderate income people, are rightly frustrated at the persistently high rates of poverty in our country. A new book called “Investing in What Works for America’s Communities,” frames the issue in the following manner: “It may seem obvious, but the most important reason why community development needs to evolve is that it is not solving the problem it was set up to fix-namely, reducing the number of people living in poverty. The percentage of Americans living in poverty when the War on Poverty was underway was about 15 percent, and it is about 15 percent today.”
In fairness to the authors, the book proceeds to give a much more balanced and nuanced explanation of what is and is not working in the field and the reasons for persistent poverty. But this simple statement “seem[s] so obvious” that it is frequently repeated in various ways by countless policy makers, scholars, funders and even practitioners. Indeed, it has become so widely accepted as to reach the level of “conventional wisdom.” It is often used not just to critique the community development field, but the much larger anti-poverty movement and most if not all government programs designed to address poverty. And it is a big part of the argument made by advocates for so called “pay for success contracts” and social impact bonds (see my article on this topic for more discussion of those models.)
But is it true?