US Antipoverty Policy and Reform

Despite decades of a war on poverty that came with proliferating programs and ballooning budgets, the official poverty rate in the United States has stubbornly refused to break from its narrow historical range. This failure stems largely from the methods used to pursue the alleviation of poverty, including a complex and chaotic welfare system that strips the poor of their dignity and their incentive to work. Welfare reform proposals are generally dominated by income support programs such as universal basic income. Although those proposals would indeed simplify the United States’ overwhelming welfare system, experiments with such guaranteed income schemes reveal complex problems with incentives and with a potential for politicization that could be damaging. Policymakers should instead turn to block grants to states, a policy that has real-world empirical support and that would alleviate the knowledge problem suffered by the federal government. States, in turn, should administer income support programs tailored to the individual causes of poverty, implementing work requirements for people who are temporarily disadvantaged and providing direct income to people who are truly unable to work.

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