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The Cost of the Existing Poverty Management System is Too Much

The United States has built an elaborate S1.1 trillion poverty management system consisting of a collection of complex and disjointed investments that have consistently maintained a poverty rate above 11% for the past 55 years.

Number in Poverty and Poverty Rate: 1959 to 2017

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Following an allopathic medical model, government and human service program designers have invested significant resources responding to the various symptoms of poverty rather than addressing underlying causes. The poverty management system comprises heavy investments in crisis intervention and stabilization because it doesn’t have intentional handoffs to the long-term solutions of workforce readiness, placement, and advancement. The result is a complicated and ineffective system of random interventions, such as temporary housing, WIC, increased policing, increased emergency room services, short-term energy assistance, emergency food, workforce training, life skills training, financial literacy, and counseling. In this poverty management system, these offerings are not 

programmatically sequenced into a long-term and accountable pathway out of poverty and into economic stability. Maybe these services help, maybe they don’t. Funding still flows to them, and the poverty rates remain stagnant.


A poverty management system gives everyone the feeling that they are busy running around except they are getting nowhere. There is no clear starting line, path, or finish line. The starter’s gun blares all day long, keeping the runners in a state of perpetual anxiety and exhaustion. The most important element of this race are the rules, and here there are lots and lots of rules. There are many judges who are paid to interpret these rules and mete out rewards and sanctions as they see fit. Rules are often applied after the fact, which keeps people running even harder or causes them to lie down and quit. The organizers are paid by the head for all those that find themselves in the race, but no one is paid to get people over the finish line. Trainers and coaches are paid to help the runners with emergency water, food, band-aids, encouragement, temporary shelter, short-term classes on how to run races, but none are paid to get the runners over the finish line.

The poverty management system clearly doesn’t work, and that is a problem for all sectors of society. Business cannot fill its demand for qualified workers without the economic development, education, workforce development, and human services systems working together to prepare people for the emerging economy. If poverty levels remain stagnant or higher rather than lower, communities will suffer the consequences of decreasing levels of safety, increasing healthcare costs, and a growing inability to attract new economic development opportunities. As poverty rises, the tax base to support infrastructure decreases while the demand on support services increases. Negative tipping points can occur which could lead to an implosion of the local economy.

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