Poverty Action Lab

MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab conducts poverty research through the use of randomized trials.

The objective is to improve the effectiveness of poverty programs by providing policy makers with clear scientific results that help shape successful policies to combat poverty … [The Lab works] on issues as diverse as boosting girls’ attendance at school, improving the output of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, racial bias in employment in the US, and the role of women political leaders in India.

The Lab’s papers (available as PDFs) cover a wide range of topics. The archive includes “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?,” which made the national news when it was originally published in 2003.

The authors summarize the project in this way:

We perform a field experiment to measure racial discrimination in the labor market. We respond with fictitious resumes to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers. To manipulate perception of race, each resume is randomly assigned either a very African American sounding name or a very White sounding name. The results show significant discrimination against African-American names: White names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews … We find little evidence that our results are driven by employers inferring something other than race, such as social class, from the names.

Storming Caesars Palace

Annelise Orleck, a professor of history at Dartmouth College, has published a book titled Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty.

It was a spring day on the Las Vegas strip in 1971 when Ruby Duncan, a former cotton picker turned hotel maid, the mother of seven, led a procession. Followed by an angry army of welfare mothers, they stormed the casino hotel Caesars Palace to protest Nevada’s decision to terminate their benefits. The demonstrations went on for weeks, garnering the protesters and their cause national attention. Las Vegas felt the pinch; tourism was cut by half. Ultimately, a federal judge ruled to reinstate benefits. It was a victory for welfare rights advocates across the country.

Duncan and others were part of a grassroots anti-poverty group called Operation Life. Former members recently enjoyed a reunion of sorts at UNLV to speak about their experiences during a book signing. According to Las Vegas CityLife,

Orleck says Operation Life and the work of the West Las Vegas black welfare mothers, many of whom had little to no formal education, “was a shining example” of how people could unite for a common goal. Operation Life brought the first health clinic, senior housing and library to the Westside …

Even though Operation Life is no more, its influence has left lasting effects in Nevada and elsewhere. The organization successfully lobbied for millions in federal money to bring food stamps to the state for the first time, as well as being one of the first certified Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food programs in the country. When welfare and other poverty services were on the chopping block, Duncan was one of a handful of women around the country who spoke before Congress in an effort to keep the programs going. In 1977, Operation Life was the only Title 7 nonprofit organization to get federal funding in the country, Orleck says in her book.

Storming Caesars Palace (6×9; hardcover; 400 pages) is available from Beacon Press for $29.95.

Street News Service

The North American Street Newspaper Association and Alternet.org have jointly launched the Street News Service.

SNS is a gateway to the best articles, essays and features written by and about homeless and low-income people. These articles are collected from the pages of street newspapers—enterprising publications produced by low-income communities in over 40 cities across North America. Street newspapers serve a vital role in these cities, giving homeless people meaningful work, educating citizens about poverty issues, and breaking important news stories.

The HHPTF was alerted to this new resource by “Street Librarian” Chris Dodge, a librarian and writer with Utne in Minneapolis.

For a primer on street newspapers, including reasons to carry them in your library, read Dodge’s “Words on the Street: Homeless People’s Newspapers.” It begins:

If, as journalist A. J. Liebling declared, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, where can we find the real thoughts of people who can’t afford to produce their own publications? How exactly are they speaking out? Where do you go to read firsthand about the real issues affecting their lives, or how public libraries can help them or what resources they need from us? An answer, and one that librarians should acquaint themselves with, is street newspapers.

Implementing ALA's Poor People's Policy

Issued in 2000, this document originally appeared in Library Juice vol. 3, no. 10 (March 8, 2000) and later in Progressive Librarian no. 18 (Summer 2001) p. 74-76.

ALA/SRRT’s Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty Task Force is making the following


“The American Library Association promotes equal access to information for all persons, and recognizes the urgent need to respond to the increasing number of poor children, adults, and families in America.”
(ALA Policy 61, Library Services for the Poor)

Actions for Citizens

Challenge public policy that adversely affects low-income people such as welfare reform, cutting tax credits, reducing food stamps, eliminating benefits to immigrants, reducing health benefits, etc.

Join local advocacy groups that work to promote resources being made available to poor people.

Promote full, stable, and ongoing funding for existing legislative programs in support of low-income services and for pro-active library programs that reach beyond traditional service-sites to poor children, adults, and families.

Promote the implementation of an expanded federal low-income housing program, national health insurance, full-employment policy, living minimum wage and welfare payments, affordable day care, and programs likely to reduce, if not eliminate, poverty itself.

Actions for Library Professionals

Related to library services and policies

Examine your library’s mission statement. Who is supposed to be served? Are all people welcome? Are all people being served? What are the barriers to people using the library? What steps could be taken to eliminate these barriers?

Work to ensure people know how library policies are determined and are able to voice their concerns.

Evaluate library policies to ensure that the policies do not discriminate based on the ability to pay for access and/or service.

Promote the removal of all barriers to library and information services, particularly fees and overdue charges.

Ensure the future success of all children by contributing to efforts that ensure children know how to read and are encouraged to read.

Work with local literacy providers to publicize availability of Adult Basic Education classes, GED, ESL, etc. to help adults improve their literacy skills.

Related to staff training

Promote training to sensitize library staff to issues affecting poor people and to attitudinal and other barriers that hinder poor people’s use of libraries.

Promote training opportunities for librarians, in order to teach effective techniques for generating public funding to upgrade library services to poor people.

Related to budgets and funding

Promote the incorporation of low-income programs and services into regular library budgets in all types of libraries, rather than the tendency to support these projects solely with “soft money” like private or federal grants.

Promote equity in funding adequate library services for poor people in terms of materials, facilities, and equipment.

Promote supplemental support for library resources for and about low-income populations by urging local, state, and federal governments and the private sector to provide adequate funding.

Related to outreach services

Ask local community organizations what issues they’re working on and how the library can contribute to their work.

Promote the determination of output measures through the encouragement of community needs assessments, giving special emphasis to assessing the needs of low-income people and involving both anti-poverty advocates and poor people themselves in such assessments.

Have a special area of reports, brochures, and newsletters of local organizations and agencies with addresses, contact names, and purpose of groups so that interested people can get involved.

Fund and support outreach services that address community needs such as literacy programs, read-aloud programs, etc.

Promote networking and cooperation between libraries and other agencies, organizations, and advocacy groups in order to develop programs and services that effectively reach poor people.

Build partnerships with organizations in your community that serve low-income families. Tell those organizations what you have, how the library works, and update them on new materials and services.

Promote among library staff the collection of food and clothing donations, volunteering personal time to anti-poverty activities, and contributing money to direct-aid organizations. Promote related efforts concerning minorities and women, since these groups are disproportionately represented among poor people.

Compile a database of local community organizations and make it part of your library’s Web pages and/or online catalog and make this information readily available to patrons who may need it.

Sponsor public events (such as forums, speakers, community discussions, presentations by local organizations) so people can understand issues affecting them—taxes, child care options, job gap, corporate welfare, crime, school services, etc.

Related to public awareness

Promote increased public awareness—through programs, displays, bibliographies, and publicity—of the importance of poverty-related library resources and services in all segments of society.

Promote direct representation of poor people and anti-poverty advocates through appointment to local boards and creation of local advisory committees on service to low-income people, such appointments to include library-paid transportation and stipends.

Collect, display, and make readily accessible current and up-to-date information on issues that are being debated such as the wage gap, lack of jobs, lack of child-care, welfare reform, etc.

Promote the publication, production, purchase, and ready accessibility of print and non-print materials that honestly address the issues of poverty and homelessness, that deal with poor people in a respectful way, and that are of practical use to low-income patrons.

Related to professional association activities

Read ALA’s “Poor People’s Policy” and think about how its recommendations may be implemented in the libraries where you work.

Distribute copies of ALA’s “Poor People’s Policy” to colleagues and initiate a discussion of the Poor People’s Policy at the libraries where you work and get your colleagues thinking about and discussing ways it can be implemented.

Ask ALA’s Washington Office to actively support legislative initiatives that would contribute to reducing, if not eliminating, poverty (e.g. living wage, more low-income housing, etc.).

Get involved in the ALA offices working on the issues of library services to the poor such as the Social Responsibilities Round Table Task Force on Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty, the OLOS Subcommittee on Library Services to the Poor and Homeless, or various other committees within ALA.

Document effective library services aimed at serving poor people and share information about these programs through ALA publications, conference sessions, electronic discussion lists, etc. as well as to groups outside ALA.

Encourage library science programs to offer courses on services to poor people.

Volunteer to develop and lead creative strategies within ALA and other professional associations that can bring visibility to the issue of libraries services for the poor.

Katrina's Window: Confronting Concentrated Poverty Across America

Alan Berube and Bruce Katz of The Brookings Institution have authored a report on concentrated poverty in the United States.

Hurricane Katrina’s assault on New Orleans’ most vulnerable residents and neighborhoods has reinvigorated a dialogue on race and class in America. This paper argues that the conversation should focus special attention on alleviating concentrated urban poverty—the segregation of poor families into extremely distressed neighborhoods.

The authors note that New Orleans was ranked second—behind Fresno, Calif.—in terms of concentrated poverty in large cities. What are the human costs?

  • reduced private sector activity
  • increased prices of basic goods for low-income households
  • limited job networks and employment ambitions
  • fewer educational opportunities
  • higher levels of crime
  • poor physical and mental health
  • limited wealth-building
  • increased pressure on government services and fiscal resources
  • greater political and societal divisions

The authors offer a seven-point plan for correcting this problem. The complete paper is available in PDF form here.

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

November 13 through 19 marks National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, co-sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness.

Each year … [d]uring this week, a number of schools, communities and cities take part in a nationwide effort to bring greater awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness … Participating in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week not only brings greater awareness to your community, but also helps to promote the national endeavor to end hunger and homelessness. The plight of those without a home can be both lonely and difficult. Addressing their struggles by organizing and participating in this week may bring greater solidarity and understanding, as well as promote future involvement. Events, such as “One Night Without a Home,” help people realize the difficulties that homeless persons daily face.

2005 Awareness Week manuals—containing a variety of suggestions and information—are available on the NCH’s Web site here.

Additional resources of interest:

How a Regular Guy Gets Homeless,” Les Gapay’s personal account of homelessness.

The Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, developed by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Out of Reach 2004,” a nationwide comparison of wages and rents, sponsored by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The study includes rankings for the least affordable states, metro areas, and counties.

The forthcoming Encyclopedia of Poverty, to be published by Sage in 2006.

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

In 1992, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 17th as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The declaration was inspired by French citizens and human rights advocates who have, since 1987, gathered on October 17th to “express their refusal of extreme poverty.”

The Day seeks to promote increased awareness of the need to eradicate poverty and serves to remind all people that sustained and concerted effort is vital to achieve the millennium development goal (MDG) of halving the number of people living in poverty by 2015.

According to the UN,

Most anti-poverty programs lift out of poverty only those that are just below the poverty line, leaving the poorest of the poor even further behind;

Building a partnership with the most disadvantaged which takes into account their efforts and aspirations is the only possible way to eradicate poverty;

Because extreme poverty separates parents and children from each other, the efforts of families to reunite and stay together must be at the centre of political action against poverty.

Join others worldwide in raising awareness of poverty and the UN’s goals: a variety of printable posters, brochures, and other materials can be downloaded here.

Disaster Assistance: Legal Resources

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law has prepared a list of resources “to help legal aid lawyers, victims, and others recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”

The list contains 19 categories with links to attorneys and legal services, assistance programs, post-disaster reports, relevant legislation, news, and other information.

The Shriver Center site also features articles from the May-June and July-August 2002 issues of Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy, which address race, poverty, and social justice.

Given the recent disaster in the Gulf, which has disproportionately affected poor people and people of color, and the imminent reconstruction effort, the Shriver Center is now making these articles available free of charge with the hope that the ideas expressed herein may assist advocates serving evacuees and clients in the affected areas.

Who Are America's Poor Children?

The National Center for Children in Poverty has just published a new report in its Child Poverty in 21st Century America Series.

Who Are America’s Poor Children?” notes the following:

Twelve million children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level—which is about $16,000 for a family of three and $19,000 for a family of four. Perhaps more stunning is that 5 million children live in families with incomes of less than half the poverty level—and the numbers are rising. Yet research clearly shows that, on average, it takes an income of at least twice poverty to cover a family’s most basic expenses.

According to the NCCP, poverty is more prevalent among black and Latino children: 33% and 28% respectively versus 10% of white children.

Poverty is associated with negative outcomes for children. It can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn. It can contribute to behavioral, social, and emotional problems. And poverty can lead to poor health among children as well.

Some 19% of U.S. children lack health insurance, including 29% of children in the state of Texas.

A printable PDF version is available here.