U.S. poverty policy is stuck in a rut. In 2015, 43 million people in America were living in poverty – more than the combined populations of Texas, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska and 11 million more than in 2000.
Slow growth and inequality are the main culprits. But the outdated way we deliver social services – through ponderous, top-down bureaucracies and siloed programs – also hinders efforts by low-income Americans to rise out of poverty.
Economists often apply the term “opportunity costs” to high and middle-income people, meaning that the time they spend on one task is time not available to perform other, potentially more valuable tasks. But society rarely applies the concept to low-income people, acting as if their time is essentially worthless.