Archives for category: Poverty

Jersey Jazzman quotes Frank Sinatra and George Carlin to mark Labor Day. Sinatra made more sense than our Harvard-educated pundits.

Sinatra said:

“All I know is that a nation with our standard of living, with our Social Security system, TVA, farm parity, health plans and unemployment insurance can afford to address itself to the cancers of starvation, substandard housing, educational voids and second-class citizenship that still exist in many backsliding areas of our own country. When we’ve cleaned up these blemishes, then we can go out with a clean conscience to see where else in the world we can help. Hunger is inexcusable in a world where grain rots in silos and butter turns rancid while being held for favorable commodity indices. “

JJ commented:

“That was more than 50 years ago, and what has happened since? We’ve actually gone backwards: a 40-year slump in which the working American has seen his or her wages and benefits decrease, while nearly all of the productivity gains in this country have gone to the very, very wealthiest among us……

“One of the central theses of this blog is that the education “reform” project is largely a distraction designed to keep America’s eyes off our predestined inequity. An entire industry has sprung up, using education policy to conflate the issues of social mobility and inequity, to support the tenets of reforminess. The pundit class, largely not our best-and-brightest, has so little historical perspective and so little command of basics in mathematics and logic that they eat this conflation up like it’s ice cream…..

“Which brings us to the true threat of a progressive education: the only hope the American middle class has at this point is for our nation to foster enough critical thinkers who can see through the blizzard of crap that large swaths of our feckless media spew at us daily. Teachers have the power to cultivate such thinkers — and that may well be why some short-sighted plutocrats are spending large amounts of money to de-professionalize us, and why they are pushing to make our teaching increasingly standardized. Divergent thinking is being replaced by “close reading,” which is great for the ruling classes, because they get to determine what exactly is being read closely.

Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, took his son on a visit to the Delta.

There they went to historical exhibits that were reminders if a brutal past. Reminders of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, racial subjugation, and resistance to oppression. You won’t read this in the textbooks.

Writing in the International Business Times, investigative journalist David Sirota reports that Microsoft admits keeping $92.9 billion offshore to avoid paying $29.6 billion in taxes, according to the most recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

He writes:

“Microsoft Corp. is currently sitting on almost $29.6 billion it would owe in U.S. taxes if it repatriated the $92.9 billion of earnings it is keeping offshore, according to disclosures in the company’s most recent annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The amount of money that Microsoft is keeping offshore represents a significant spike from prior years, and the levies the company would owe amount to almost the entire two-year operating budget of the company’s home state of Washington.

“The company says it has “not provided deferred U.S. income taxes” because it says the earnings were generated from its “non-U.S. subsidiaries” and then “reinvested outside the U.S.” Tax experts, however, say that details of the filing suggest the company is using tax shelters to dodge the taxes it owes as a company domiciled in the United States.”

He adds:

“Apple and General Electric, which also employ offshore subsidiaries, are the only U.S.-based companies that have more money offshore than Microsoft, according to data compiled by Citizens for Tax Justice. In all, a May report by CTJ found that “American Fortune 500 corporations are likely saving about $550 billion by holding nearly $2 trillion of ‘permanently reinvested’ profits offshore.” The report also found that “28 of these corporations reveal that they have paid an income tax rate of 10 percent or less to the governments of the countries where these profits are officially held, indicating that most of these profits are likely in offshore tax havens.”

“Microsoft’s use of the offshore subsidiary tactics has exploded in the last five years, with the amount of Microsoft earnings shifted offshore jumping 516 percent since 2008, according to SEC filings.”

That kind of money, repatriated to the United States, could underwrite prenatal care for low-income women, provide early childhood education for all low-income children, underwrite medical clinics in low-income communities, and save public education in cities like Detroit and Philadelphia, where it is in dire peril. Imagine $550 billion invested in the well-being of our children! Imagine using that money to reduce our child poverty rate, which is currently the highest among the advanced nations of the world.

In an article in Dissent magazine, four authors argue that the notion of America as a “post-racial” society is wrong. The public and politicians tend to blame blacks for the conditions in which they live, as though racism were a thing of the past and the doors of opportunity are wide open for all. Even the election of a black President has not wiped out historic disadvantages that a significant proportion of black Americans are born into.

Alan Aja, Daniel Bustillo, William Darity, Jr., and Darrick Hamilton lay out the facts of continuing racial disparity in employment, wealth, and self-employment to demonstrate that blacks continue to be severely disadvantaged.

The authors off two proposals to provide economic security to all Americans. One is a universal trust account, which would be larger for those who are needy. The other is a guaranteed federal job. Both are expensive yet considerably less than the cost of the economic stimulus plan, which saved the nation’s banks. Imagine: saving our society.

Paul Thomas here takes on some of the most sacred beliefs of U.S. culture. He argues that poverty is destiny, and that education is not the great equalizer. He says that wishing it were so does not make it so.

He writes:

“In the U.S. both poverty and affluence are destiny, and those who shudder at that reality are confusing verbs: Yes, poverty should not be destiny, but false claims will never allow us to achieve that ideal.”

Thomas quotes Matt Bruenig, who wrote:

“One convenient way to describe what’s going on is that rich kids are more likely to get a better education, which translates into being richer and wealthier as adults. It is certainly the case that richer kids are more likely to get a college degree, and it is certainly the case that getting a college degree leaves you much better off on average than not getting one. But this does not explain the full picture of social immobility. Take a look at this super-complicated chart, which I will describe below….

“So, you are 2.5x more likely to be a rich adult if you were born rich and never bothered to go to college than if you were born poor and, against all odds, went to college and graduated. The disparity in the outcomes of rich and poor kids persists, not only when you control for college attainment, but even when you compare non-degreed rich kids to degreed poor kids!

“Therefore, the answer to the question in the title is that you are better off being born rich regardless of whether you go to college than being born poor and getting a college degree.”

Thomas says that our popular myths have a dark side. They allow us to blame the poor for being poor, for not working hard enough, for lacking “grit.”

We do not live in a meritocracy, saysThomas, but in a society where race and class determine most people’s destiny.

He does not wish to be considered a fatalist. Instead, he says, we must “Commit to social and education policy grounded in equity, and not in competition or market forces.” So long as we believe that it is up to each individual to rise or fall on their own, without regard to large social and economic forces, nothing will change.

Erik Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann take issue with David Berliner and Gene Glass’s view about how high levels of child poverty in the U.S. affect our students’ performance on international assessments. In the following post, David Berliner responds to their critique.

Criticism via Sleight of Hand

David C. Berliner

​Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann (2014) (HPW) criticize Berliner, Glass, and Associates (2014). They label Berliner et al. “apologists,” and as misleaders of the American people. But their critique of our work seems bizarre. They never address the issue we deal with. We talk about the role of income and poverty in national and international assessments. They do not. Here is what they do:
​“To ascertain whether the challenges facing the United States are concentrated among the educationally disadvantaged, we identify for each state and country the proficiency rate of students from families with parents of high, moderate, and low levels of education.”
​Their analysis suggests that the children of America’s better educated families do not do as well as the children of better educated parents in other countries. If true, that would certainly not make us happy. But it is an irrelevant criticism of our analysis which convincingly demonstrates that poverty, along with its sequelae and correlations, is the greatest barrier to high achievement test scores for U.S. students on both domestic and international tests. Theirs is criticism via sleight of hand—we talk “level of poverty” and the outcomes of assessments, they talk “level of parental education” and the outcomes of assessment.

​Everyone knows that there is a relationship between educational level and income. But HPW blithely assume that the correlation between these two variables is quite high, when it is not. In fact the raw correlation between an individual’s educational level and that individual’s income actually is surprisingly low. In Arizona, for example, among employed individuals 25-55 years old, the correlations between wage income and education level are about .20 for workers at younger ages, the child-bearing ages. This correlation increases with age, but is still relatively weak, only about .40 (accounting for only 16% of variance) at the upper end of the age scale examined. One’s level of education and one’s level of income simply do not provide the same information, something often referred to as status inconsistency in the sociological literature.

To criticize us with their data set requires HPW to show two things. First, that the correlation between educational level of the parents of school children and income level of those parents is quite high in the U.S. Second, they must show that the relationships of parental education and parental income is about the same in all the OECD countries. They do not provide either of these two analyses. Nor could they, since it is highly unlikely that similar correlations are the case.

​Moreover, HPW do not acknowledge that much recent data suggest that education and income are not highly correlated in the U.S. For example, we know that in 1970, only 1 in 100 taxi drivers and chauffeurs in the U.S. had a college degree. Today, 15 of 100 do. Highly educated taxi drivers are likely not to be able to afford to live in the areas where school poverty rates for families are below 10%. In those public schools, U.S. students are among the top scoring in the world. Even in the schools where about 10-25% of the families are in poverty, U.S. public school students compete remarkably well. The question is whether all those well-educated taxi drivers live in the areas served by those kinds of school? Probably not! Thus their children are unlikely to be getting as good an education as are the children whose parents, regardless of their educational level, can afford to live in those areas.

​Educational achievement on domestic and international tests is related to where you live and with whom you go to school. The children of these well-educated taxi drivers are more likely living in schools attended by people of more modest means, and this is possibly a reason for the findings of HPW. But it is not just taxi drivers with college degrees that have grown in numbers. In 1970, only about 2 percent of firefighters had a college degree. Now 15 percent do. Are they sending their kids to the schools attended by richer Americans, or to schools that serve the working and middle classes?

​About 1 in 4 bartenders has some sort of college degree. Are they high earners? If they have children, with whom would those children go to school? Our critics know as well as we do that who you go to school with is more important for your performance on tests than is your teacher, or any other influence. James Coleman made that clear fifty years ago and no credible refutation of this argument yet exists.

​So if many of America’s highly educated people are not earning high salaries, and thus not sending their children to the schools attended by the children of the advantaged, guess what? They will not do as well as might be expected of highly educated people—which is the point made by HPW. So not only does their data not refute our argument, if our hypothesis about education and income in contemporary U.S. is credible, their data actually confirm ours! Parental income and their child’s school achievement are strongly related, perhaps even more so than is parental education level and their children’s school achievement. In modern America, parental income rather than parental education more often determines who your children go to school with.

​Even more evidence suggests that the correlation between education and income (and therefore, the correlation between education and the neighborhood one lives in) is not as high as HPW suggest. More than a third of recent college graduates hold jobs that do not require a college degree. This underemployment or “mal-employment” rate appears to be over 36% for college-educated workers younger than 25. People don’t go to college to be a waiter or a bartender, but that is now a common outcome of their education. Nearly 8% of college graduates are working part-time, but would like full-time positions, and these highly educated people are not counted in the mal-employment rate of 36%.

​Not surprisingly, hospitality and retail are the most common occupations of the mal-employed. Of the nearly 3 million recent college grads, 152,000 are working in retail sales and nearly 100,000 work as waiters, bartenders or in other food service posts. Another 80,000 serve as clerks or customer service representatives, and 60,000 work in construction or manual labor.
​These are Americans of child-bearing age, and they will be sending their children to school now, or quite soon. Will they live in neighborhoods where less than 10% of the families served by the schools are in poverty? Or are these now and future parents more likely to live in neighborhoods where 25-50% of the families are in poverty? Those would be the neighborhoods and schools that serve the working and the middle classes, and the students in these schools score about the national or international average on most assessments. Not great, but certainly not bad. Furthermore, going to the suburbs is no escape: Recently, and for the first time, suburban poverty rates exceeded urban poverty rates. So these poor and modest-earning well-educated Americans, often with large debts from college, are likely to wait a long time before they can move to a neighborhood with a school that has less than 10% of its children living in poverty and thus a likely very high performing school.

​As is clear, HPW switched the argument from poverty to education. Perhaps children of America’s highly educated parents are not doing as well as children of the highly educated in other countries. We did not study that issue, but we have doubts about their findings, given what we have presented above about the relationship between education and income and where children are likely to be brought up in the contemporary U.S. More important is that their argument is irrelevant to our argument. We are quite sure we are correct in stating that youth poverty is our biggest education problem (see also, Biddle (2014)). What follows is why we hold this belief.
​On the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS] tests, on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study [PIRLS] test, and on the Program for International Student Assessment [PISA] tests of reading, science and mathematics, public school students in five groups were assessed. One group attended schools where fewer than 10% of the families were in poverty, others attended schools where approximately 10-25% of the families were in poverty, or where 25-50%, 50-75% or over 75% of the families served by the school were in poverty. On each of these three international tests, U.S. public school students did terrific in the schools where poverty rates of families were under 10%, or even when poverty rates were between 10% and 25%. But we did not do well in schools where poverty rates were above 50%, and we did even worse on those tests in schools where poverty rates for families were in the 75-100% bracket.

Here is the recent TIMSS data for grades 4 and 8 by poverty of the families served by the school.


​ Although many nations in this analysis were not developed nations, the competition did include Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, and many OECD countries. The data are clear. First, to the amazement of everyone, the U.S. mean score in mathematics was above the international average, a finding conveniently underreported in the U.S. But averages always hide trends in data. When U.S. scores are broken down by the poverty of the families served, as in this graph, we see that the higher the percent of poverty among the families served by the schools, the lower the score in math. The science assessment showed the same trend.
​Less well known is that the two groups on the left constitute about 12 million students, and they handily beat the average score of Finland. Even the middle group beat Finland at both the 4th and 8th grade, and that means that about 50% of U.S. school children who are not greatly affected by poverty, about 25 million children, are doing as well as the nation whose scores other nations envy. But internationally high, or quite respectable test scores, are not the lot of those students attending schools with high rates of poverty. That is our simple point.
​Let’s switch to PIRLS.



​U.S. public school students, where poverty rates were low, the two bars on the left, outscored every other nation in the world, and there were more than 50 other countries and jurisdictions in this study. Underreported, once again, was that even our children in schools that serve the poorest families, the bar on the right, scored above the international average. The gap, however, between the children in schools that serve the wealthy and those that serve the poor is huge. That is our point. If we want better test scores in the U.S. we should probably stop blaming unions, tenure, the curriculum, teachers and administrators, and instead create programs to reduce poverty and the housing segregation that accompanies low earnings.
​Now let’s go to PISA, the test that HPW use to argue that we do not have it right. Here are math scores for the five groups we focus on.



​Even in math, often our weakest subject, those students in schools where poverty rarely is seen, the first bar in this graph, placed 6th in world—and they placed higher than Japan. The next group, schools with less than 25% of the children living in poverty families, placed 17th in world, well above most of the countries in OECD. But here is our national problem: The U.S. average score was low because the schools attended by children whose families are in poverty score poorly. Those in the schools most heavily affected by poverty may not have the mathematics skills needed to compete in the market. But other U.S. children certainly do, and they are predominantly those attending schools low in family poverty.

Here are science scores.


​The first bar in this graph displays PISA science scores for students in schools with under 10% of their classmates living in families that experience poverty. They were beaten by only one country, Shanghai, which as we know is not a country but a city. And it is a city with the highest rate of college graduates in China. Apparently it also does not test the children of its illegal immigrants (those from rural areas living in Shanghai illegally: Their number may approach 200,000). The second bar, representing students in schools where under 25% of the students are from families in poverty tied for 8th in the world. Not too shabby a performance for about 12 million American public school students. But once again the trend is clear. Children in schools high in poverty do not do well. The difference between the schools serving the wealthy and the poor is over one standard deviation.

Here is the reading data. The trend is clear once again.


​Reading is an area of US strength, as PIRLS revealed. We see that again in PISA. US students in schools where under 10% of the families served are in poverty placed 2nd in the world. In the group where under 25% of the students were in poverty the students placed 6th in the world, tied with Finland. So, again, around 12 million of our student’s did great. And if we assess the performance of students represented by the third bar, the one showing students in schools with 25-50% of the families served in poverty, they also did well. They came in 10th. So approximately half of all US students, about 25 million of them, are doing pretty good, but that is not true for the other half of our school population—those attending schools where over 50% of the students come from families that are eligible for free and reduced lunch, our marker of family poverty.

​We conclude that in contemporary America parental income, not parental education buys neighborhood, and neighborhood plays a big role in determining the composition of the class ones child is in, the composition of the cohort at the grade level one’s child is in, and the characteristics of the community in which one’s child goes to school. If there is not a very strong correlation between parental education and parental income, or more to the point, between parental education and where you can afford to live, HPW are wrong in both their interpretation of their own data, and their criticism of us. But we would like to add one more criticism of HPW, namely, that reliance on PISA and other international assessments to draw conclusions about characteristics of the U.S. system of education is foolish, even though we challenged their interpretations of our work by using those same questionable tests. The remarkably insightful Chinese born scholar Yong Zhao has a book coming out soon (Zhou, 2014). In it he makes it quite clear that PISA, in particular, and for international tests in general, it is impossible to draw valid conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses of national systems of education. Zhao (and many others) would caution, and we would agree, that HPW are on extremely shaky ground when they use PISA data to do so.


Berliner, D. C., Glass, G. V and Associates. (2014). Fifty myths and lies that
​threaten America’s public schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Biddle, B. J. (2014). The unacknowledged disaster: Youth poverty and
educational failure in America. Boston. MA: Sense Publishers.

Hanushek, E. A., Peterson, P. E., & Woessmann, L. (2014). Not just the
​problems of other people’s children: U.S. Student Performance in Global
Perspective. Harvard University, Program on Education Policy and Governance & Education Next, PEPG Report No. 14-01, May 2014.

Zhao, Y. (2014). Who’s afraid of the big bad dragon? Why China has the best
​(and worst) education system in the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-

Paul Thomas here reviews many of the public statements of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and finds a common theme: the cause of low test scores is low expectations.


If only society, the schools, and parents had higher expectations, no child would be left behind, no child would ever get low test scores, children with disabilities would excel.


Embedded in this claim is the strange belief that poverty, hunger, homelessness, racism, and other social maladies have no effect on students’ ability to learn in school.


Thomas refers to a list of popular but misguided beliefs that Duncan loves to repeat because they support his narrative of blaming teachers, parents, and schools:


In a recent blog post, Jack Schneider identified 10 popular reform claims offered by the current slate of education reformers, including Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and Duncan himself:

Claim 1: American teachers need more incentive to work hard….

Claim 2: Schools need disruptive innovation. The status quo is unacceptable….

Claim 3: The public schools are in crisis….

Claim 4: It should be easier to fire bad teachers. Tenure is a problem…

Claim 5: Schools need to teach more technology….

Claim 6: Teachers should be paid for results….

Claim 7: We need more charter schools…

Claim 8: We’re falling behind the rest of the world….

Claim 9: Teacher preparation is a sham….

Claim 10: Teachers only work nine months a year….


What do these claims have in common? First, each can be found repeatedly in comments made by Duncan, media reports, and the day-to-day assumptions held by the public. Second, each claim is misleading at best, and false at worst.


Obama’s USDOE and Secretary Duncan, however, use these widely accepted though false claims as partisan political distraction, rather than relying on evidence-based cases to target politically volatile and unpopular issues related to poverty, racism, inequity, and the short-comings of the free market. That’s not just a shame, it’s deplorable.


Thomas says that the U.S. Department of Education has a “twisted culture inside the USDOE—a culture that maintains a message of high expectations for students, teachers, and schools and thus diverts attention away from the more powerful influence of poverty and inequity in both society and schools.

Yet it seems increasingly evident that the only place where low expectations are the main sources of failure is inside the USDOE itself—specifically with the appointment of Duncan.” Duncan is not the only Secretary of Education who never taught, but he is the only Secretary with the arrogance to chastise teachers for their failures and low expectations, as if he knew how to do their job better than they do. Thomas writes that the USDOE is “a collection of appointees under Obama that lacks the experience, expertise and political will to lead the needed reforms facing U.S. public schools. Once the brief flurry of outrage passes, we must admit that the Obama education agenda will remain one of the greatest failures of the hope and change that Obama once promised.” So long as the USDOE continues to ignore the root cause of poor performance, none of their “reforms” will make any difference.


Corporate education reformers often say that poverty is just an excuse for bad teachers. Michelle Rhee said that often, but seven years after she took charge of the D.C. Public schools (and was replaced by her deputy Kaya Henderson), D.C. remains one of the nation’s lowest-scoring districts.

Arne Duncan has often called poverty an excuse. Wendy Kopp and Bill Gates have said that if “we” fix schools first, poverty will take care of itself.

The rest of us are waiting for proof of this claim. One consequence of believing that corporate education reform cures poverty is that none of the 1% feels it necessary to do anything to reduce poverty. Just test more often, adopt Common Core, fire teachers whose students don’t get high test scores, close schools with low scores, and open many more charters.

None of this reduces poverty. But it makes the 1% feel righteous without raising their taxes.

A comment by a reader on this subject, with one correction. The U.S. is #1 in child poverty among advanced nations, not #2. Romania is not an advanced nation; its economic development was repressed by decades of Communist dictatorship.

The reader writes:

“I think it is very difficult to sustain the argument that the US does as much to promote child well-being as many other advanced nations. Most measures as indicated by this report ( don’t appear to be in the US’ favor:

“High overall levels of child well-being are achieved by the Netherlands and Sweden and low levels by the United States and the United Kingdom. Even at the top performing end, both the Netherlands and Sweden have a dimension along which performance is at best only adequate (material well-being for the Netherlands and Family relationships for Sweden). At the bottom, both the United States and the United Kingdom perform worse than the median country on all dimensions.”

“Furthermore, the US’ relative child poverty rate (defined as living in a household that earns less than half of the national median) is extremely high when compared to other developed countries:

“Just looking at how we stack up with Australia and Canada should be illustrative given our similar income levels, immigration rates (actually higher in those nations), and shared cultural heritage.”

Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University offers common-sense ideas about closing the achievement gap. She says that testing is less important than teaching. No surprise there.

She reviews an OECD study about teachers. What it shows is that teachers in the U.S. work longer hours under more difficult conditions than teachers in many other nations.

“Now we have international evidence about something that has a greater effect on learning than testing: Teaching. The results of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), released last week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), offer a stunning picture of the challenges experienced by American teachers, while providing provocative insights into what we might do to foster better teaching — and learning — in the United States.

“In short, the survey shows that American teachers today work harder under much more challenging conditions than teachers elsewhere in the industrialized world. They also receive less useful feedback, less helpful professional development, and have less time to collaborate to improve their work. Not surprisingly, two-thirds feel their profession is not valued by society — an indicator that OECD finds is ultimately related to student achievement….

“Nearly two-thirds of U.S. middle-school teachers work in schools where more than 30 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. This is by far the highest rate in the world, and more than triple the average TALIS rate. The next countries in line after the United States are Malaysia and Chile. Ignored by our current education policies are the facts that one in four American children lives below the poverty line and a growing number are homeless, without regular access to food or health care, and stressed by violence and drug abuse around them. Educators now spend a great deal of their time trying to help children and families in their care manage these issues, while they also seek to close skill gaps and promote learning.

“Along with these challenges, U.S. teachers must cope with larger class sizes (27 versus the TALIS average of 24). They also spend many more hours than teachers in any other country directly instructing children each week (27 versus the TALIS average of 19). And they work more hours in total each week than their global counterparts (45 versus the TALIS average of 38), with much less time in their schedules for planning, collaboration, and professional development. This schedule — a leftover of factory-model school designs of the early 1900s — makes it harder for our teachers to find time to work with their colleagues on creating great curriculum and learning new methods, to mark papers, to work individually with students, and to reach out to parents.”

She offers specific proposals for supporting teachers.

She concludes:

“We cannot make major headway in raising student performance and closing the achievement gap until we make progress in closing the teaching gap. That means supporting children equitably outside as well as inside the classroom, creating a profession that is rewarding and well-supported, and designing schools that offer the conditions for both the student and teacher learning that will move American education forward.”

Jeff Madrick, journalist and economic policy consultant, wrote an important post for the New York Review of Books blog about the inequalities that begin at birth.

Madrick writes:

“Pre-K is not enough…Indeed, two studies completed in 2013 relate neural deterioration directly to poverty. A group of researchers from six universities measured the brain activity of adults who had been poor at age nine and found that the areas that control emotions were physically underdeveloped. A Washington University study found that poor children who are nurtured adequately, thus avoiding constant stress, usually have normally developed brain tissue, while those with less nurturing have less white and grey matter and smaller control centers, such as the hippocampus.

“What’s been discovered is that human beings have a chemical reaction to stress that at first protects them from damage. But the defense is limited. Should a young child, whose brain is still forming, be bombarded by constant stress—from violence at home, lack of food, parental drug abuse, and, not least, chronic lack of attention or nurturing—the overloaded mechanism fails and the brain is adversely affected.”

But poverty and the stresses it causes are not inevitable, Madrick writes:

“What concerns me most, however, is that our political leaders and legislators have until now largely overlooked the connection between poverty, poor educational attainment, and even neural malfunctions—and the extent to which effective poverty reduction itself can correct the problem. Economists Janet Gornick and Markus Jantii analyzed data across nations and concluded that child poverty is far lower in European nations, not because their economy produces higher wages for lower income workers, but because of more robust social programs. Most of these nations, and many in Latin America, for example, provide direct cash allowances for parents with children.

“More and better paying jobs are vital to combating child poverty and the problems it leads to. A full employment economy, with good jobs, is still possible with substantial fiscal stimulus, especially including public investment in infrastructure.

“But social programs are critical. Contrary to the widespread cynicism about social programs and welfare, the US knows how to reduce poverty. As Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes, the federal safety net, including Medicaid, Food Stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit, kept 41 million people out of poverty in 2012, including 9 million children. Without government benefits, today’s poverty rate would be 29 percent. Instead, using the best measures of poverty, which include government transfers and tax credits, the rate has dropped from about 26 percent in the late 1960s to 16 percent today. In other words, the War on Poverty begun in the 1960s worked.”

And he concludes:

“Armed with the unambiguous findings of twenty-first-century neuroscience, we can no longer just tell children raised poor to study harder and find jobs as they grow up. A nation that needs all its citizens to be productive workers, and that promises a fair and dignified life to all, regardless of race or color, must now turn its attention to its enormous pool of poor children.”


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