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Theories of Poverty and Anti-Poverty Programs in Community Development

Theories of Poverty and Anti-Poverty Programs in Community Development

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Theories of Poverty and Anti-Poverty Programs in Community Development

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  1. Theories of Poverty andAnti-Poverty Programs in Community Development Ted K. Bradshaw Human and Community Development Department University of California, Davis, CA 95616 April 2004

  2. Issue: how do you help people get out of poverty? • Many different approaches • Enforce attendance in school • Get people out of poverty prone cultures • Change the economic and political system to eliminate discrimination • EZs help poverty prone geographic areas • CDCs take a comprehensive and cumulative approach that integrates community and individual improvement

  3. Why do we need a better theory of poverty? • Premise: If we understood what causes poverty we could better focus antipoverty efforts • However, there are many competing theories of poverty • Much of what we do that is successful is not well represented by the theoretical discussions • Recent theoretical debate has narrowed to the conservative individualists vs the progressives who want to change structure

  4. Theory and Practice: How community development addresses Poverty • Five theoretical perspectives contrasted • Model of analysis: • What causes poverty? • How does the theory explain poverty? • Potential community development responses • Examples

  5. 1. Individual theories of poverty • Individuals are to blame for their poverty • Historically powerful model • Social Darwinism, Bell Curve • Pervasive within conservative thinking • Rooted in neo-classical economics • Laziness, incompetence, bad choice • Self help strategies-American dream

  6. Individual theories • Theory assumes that competition rewards winners with affluence and general stability; losers are poor • Also assumes that individuals can change their behavior by making better choices • We do not do any favors for the poor by relieving them of the need to take responsibility for their actions

  7. Responses • Most responses are punitive • Welfare reform • Policing the poor • Term limits on benefits • Public humiliation • Sterilization

  8. Community development responses • Countering the dominant policy response • Shift from blaming the victim • Individualized programs • Supportive Self help

  9. Individual examples (for community developers) • Drug rehabilitation • Second chance programs • Safety net • Training • Counseling • Help for disabled

  10. 2. Cultural Theories of Poverty • Assume that behaviors are learned and rooted in social environments • Subcultural values dominate—example of ghetto housing projects • Sympathetic view: Individuals are social beings and are not blamed

  11. How do cultural theories work? • Peer influences • Learning based on what is successful • Behaviors and values may be in opposition to dominant groups • Options are limited because lack of information getting to people

  12. Potential responses • Use social groups and peers in a positive way • Expand education and information programs • Community building • Socialization efforts • Leadership development

  13. Examples of Cultural Responses • Head start and after school programs • Entrepreneurial and business training • Asset based community development programs • Cultural appreciation

  14. 3. Structural theories of poverty • This theory assumes that individuals have strong motivation to succeed • However, the poor are overwhelmingly prevented from success by structural barriers that need to be removed • Progressive thought seeks reform of the system rather than punishing individuals

  15. Structural • Barriers that lead to poverty are found in many sectors of the society • Economy • Education • Health • Housing • Politics • Safety and environmental justice • Transportation

  16. Structural barriers cause poverty in many ways • People are prevented from achieving their potential by irrelevant criteria such as race, gender, age… • People with advantage perpetuate and extend their opportunities because they can • Political structures do not value the poor

  17. Structural changes in community development • Community organizing • Advocacy can stimulate change • Political organizing can increase representation for the poor • As poor groups get more information they can negotiate better opportunities

  18. Structural changes in community development • Organizational development and service provision • Alternative routes to success through new businesses, training, and housing • Support structures for struggling efforts that benefit the poor • Force main stream institutions to be more responsive to the poor

  19. Examples of structural change • Cooperatives or nonprofit businesses for poor • Workforce development programs linked to real jobs negotiated because of community actions • End of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices • Voter registration and mobilization • Ethnic markets that meet needs of minority communities. • Health clinics and effective worker safety programs • Rural economic development

  20. 4. Geographic theories of poverty • Why are some regions poor while others are rich? • Poverty is concentrated in neighborhoods, states, regions, and nations • Often the places with the greatest natural resources are also the poorest—especially in rural communities

  21. Why is poverty concentrated in certain areas? • Agglomeration of problems in some areas and economic growth in others • People move to more affluent areas if they are able to do so • Advantaged and urban areas have greater economies of scale in supporting beneficial growth • Rural areas suffer from isolation

  22. Responses to geographical concentration of poverty • Redistribution policies by state and federal government—spending, office location, and purchasing • Targeted development policies • Investment in infrastructure and other public goods • Focused community organizing

  23. Examples of meeting needs of underdeveloped regions • Investments in the Southern US • Neighborhood revitalization • Rural development efforts from TVA to local tourism development • Regional community networking • Rural-plex programs based on creating rural clusters • Redevelopment, enterprise zones, marketing programs, trade areas, etc

  24. 5. Cumulative theories of poverty • Two key ideas • Poverty conditions and causes are linked in interdependent spirals of decline, and these spirals are very hard to reverse • Individuals and their communities are intertwined such that factory closings lead to unemployed individuals who have personal problems but who also contribute less to the community, causing community decline • Do poor communities make poor people, or do poor people make poor communities?

  25. Cumulative causes of poverty • This approach acknowledges the complexity of poverty at every level in contrast to those who seek single factor solutions • This approach also does not distinguish between individual and community because they are intertwined

  26. Successful responses to cumulative poverty conditions • Community responses + individual help • Break spiral of poverty through intensive and strategic planning • Whole community participation and visioning • Asset mapping and community revitalization • Linking economic development with equity and justice

  27. Successful responses to cumulative poverty conditions (cont) • Individual responses + community action • Comprehensive development efforts for individuals, based on strategic efforts toward self sufficiency • Long term follow-up with individuals to see that they get skills and opportunities to use them • Integrate individuals into groups in their community and help create a climate of civic responsibility • Build self confidence and a realistic plan

  28. Examples • Asian Neighborhood Design strategy for self sufficiency • Duncan’s supportive communities • Delancy Street • Collaborative programs such as RCAC

  29. Implications • There is overwhelming and growing evidence that cumulative, cyclical, and complex approaches to poverty are essential

  30. Conclusion • CD poverty programs would benefit from an evaluation of their theory about the cause or cure for poverty • Thus far, there are too many competing theoretical perspectives that succeed only in reinforcing preexisting political perspectives • There is a great need for more comprehensive evaluations of successful anti-poverty programs • These evaluations must be linked to theories about the cause of poverty