Saturday, September 06, 2014

what makes people poor?


NYTimes | Let’s imagine for a moment that there are no political pressures distorting our discussion of poverty and that we can look at it as a technical problem, not a moral one.
Maybe we would find that most explanations – left, right and center – are not mutually exclusive but mutually reinforcing.

Before we take this thought experiment further, we should consider the ramifications of new research that provides insight into urban social disorder, worklessness, the rising salience of education and the shortcomings of government policy.

David Autor, an economist at M.I.T. best known for exploring the costs to American workers of automation and trade with China, has recently expanded the scope of his research on unemployment to look at the consequences for men who grow up in a fatherless household.

In a paper published last year, Autor, working in collaboration with a fellow M.I.T. economist, Melanie Wasserman, found that “the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rates; occupational stature; and real wage levels.” The trends have been much worse for men than women because “the absence of stable fathers from children’s lives has particularly significant adverse consequences for boys’ psychosocial development and educational achievement.”

Autor and Wasserman cite data showing that “after controlling for a host of individual and family characteristics, growing up in a single-parent home appears to significantly decrease the probability of college attendance for boys, yet has no similar effect for girls.” The authors add that when raised with a nonresidential father, “boys perform less well academically than girls.”