Confronting Poverty

Confronting Poverty

Mission: To inform policy makers and the general public about issues related to poverty and inequality in the United States. 

Background: Twenty years ago, Mark Rank, the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare at Washington University, and Tom Hirschl, professor of development sociology at Cornell University, sat down to answer a basic question: "What is the likelihood that an American will experience poverty at some point during their lifetime?" Rank and Hirschl believed that "solving" this question would help move the country forward in confronting the problem of poverty, which historically had been viewed as a problem mostly affecting "someone else" (i.e., minorities and a permanent underclass). In their work, the two discovered that nearly two out of every three Americans (60 percent) between the ages of 20 and 75 would experience at least one year in poverty (below the official poverty line), while three-quarters would experience at least one year of near poverty (below 150 percent of the official poverty line). Additional research revealed the extent of economic turmoil, for many Americans, across the life span. In an effort to more widely disseminate their findings, Rand and Hirschl decided to take their data and methodology and turn them into a tool that anyone could use to estimate their own risk of falling into poverty.

Outstanding Web Features: Based on Rank and Hirschl's analysis of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which has been tracking the economic fortunes of a nationally representative group of Americans over the past five decades, the Poverty Risk Calculator enables visitors to the site to input various pieces of information and, based on that information, estimate their likelihood of experiencing poverty in the future. Comparisons also can be made with different individual profiles, enabling users to examine the effects that education, marital status, race, gender, and age have on the risk of poverty. Organized into ten question-based modules, the site's discussion guide is designed to facilitate discussions of the issues surrounding American poverty and inequality. Module questions include" What is poverty, and how might we measure it? What are the realities versus the myths of poverty? How can we understand the root causes of poverty? How important is hard work for avoiding poverty? Why is poverty in the U.S. higher than in other countries? And what can be done to alleviate poverty? Visitors to the site also can view a small sampling of the research that went into informing the debate around poverty and inequality.

School of Social Work: Mark Rank
Main Office:
Campus Box 1196
Washington University
St. Louis, Missouri 63130
Subjects: human services
Location: National