In Search of the Working Poor

The Public Interest, Fall 1987.


The American debate about poverty and public policy has always been grounded in the prevailing answer to the question, “Can any American who is willing to work hard make a decent living?” From the founding of the nation until the 1960s, the consensus answer among policymakers had always been “yes” with minor qualifications. During the 1960s, the policy consensus shifted to “no” and has remained there ever since. Poverty is largely structural, the new received wisdom has held; it is caused by barriers and culs-de-sac in the economy that will inevitably trap certain populations in poverty.

National Affairs