claude fischer on recent poverty research

Boston Review has a new article by sociologist Claude Fischer on the topic of poverty research. He covers a lot of ground in a few pages. For example, I didn’t know the following:

Critically, understand that the long-term poor are a small minority of a minority. Most of those counted as poor in a given year are poor temporarily because of setbacks such as layoffs, family break-ups, car breakdowns, or medical emergencies. (Note, too, that we are not talking about the severely physically or mentally disabled; the controversy is about the able-bodied.) Social welfare scholar Mark Rank estimates that about half of all Americans will be poor sometime between the ages of 25 and 75, and perhaps a fifth will go through both poverty and affluence. Only about 2 percent, perhaps even less, will be poor most of their lives from 25 to 60 years of age.

This by itself has an important policy implication. The lion’s share of poverty policy should be about helping people protect themselves from temporary income drops or helping people get satisfactory job/income levels after a recession.

Fischer then approaches poverty from a cultural toolkit perspective. If you are middle class, you demand things. If you are poor, you know your place and keep your head down:

In their [poor people’s] worlds, staying humble is usually the best way to keep their jobs or their kids in school. Sharing what money they have rather than saving it, or risking a job to drive a friend, increases the odds that they will be helped when the inevitable crisis hits. And where there are many predators, it makes sense to be distrustful or even predatory in turn.

In other words, being middle class involves a balance of professional cooperation and conflict. Being poor is about avoiding workplace conflict and inefficient handling of personal relationships.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 24, 2012 at 12:09 am

5 Responses

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  1. Some well-respected poverty researchers think the Rank and Hirschl estimates are too high. See, e.g., Grieger, Danziger, and Gottschalk in “The Probability of Experiencing Poverty and its Duration in Adulthood” (available as a PDF via google search).



    May 24, 2012 at 3:02 am

  2. To clarify: Grieger et al provide a lower estimate of the percentage who are EVER poor. It’s not clear (on quick perusal) is they have an estimate of the percentage that are poor a lifetime.


    Claude Fischer

    May 24, 2012 at 4:12 am

  3. Reblogged this on tressiemc.



    May 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm

  4. Grieger & colleagues argue that it’s a general problem with left-censoring (late entrants) in the life tables method that Rand and Hirschl use to derive their estimates. Grieger and Danziger’s 2011 Demography article, for example, estimates the percentage of 20-year olds who ever be on food stamps at 39% and the percentage of 29 year olds at 30%. Those are still very high and troubling estimates (at least for those on the political left), but less dramatic and hence less likely to be headline-grabbers than Rand and Hirschl’s “more than half” — 51% — estimate.

    One of the big stories that often gets lost in the press reports is effect heterogeneity across race and parental income. Fascinating stuff.



    May 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm

  5. Amazing article by Fischer here. Someone finally calls it like it is and isn’t afraid to just say: “[I]t’s about opportunity”. Question: While you find that, “Only about 2 percent, perhaps even less, will be poor most of their lives from 25 to 60 years of age”. What happens when we take race into account? Is this 2 percent figure as true for blacks and Latinos as it is for whites? My suspicion is that, similar to the racial wealth gap, there may also be a considerable race gap here in terms of who is in poverty for longer (i.e. the permanence of poverty).




    May 30, 2012 at 11:23 pm

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