Solving the Poverty Problem

Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and a panel of experts agreed on September 4 that no new action on American poverty can be expected until a new political consensus acknowledging the role of individual behavior in perpetuating poverty emerges.

"By the turn of the century most or almost most American children will have lived some part of their lives in poverty," said the senator, a former Harvard government professor. This situation might prompt "the country to look up," he told the Kennedy School forum audience.

The symposium, "America's Poor: What is to be Done," was the Kennedy School's contribution to an ongoing national reassessment of the future of welfare policy.

However, the symposium panel agreed that any government programs resulting from this new political consensus must address what Professor of Political Economy Glenn C. Loury called the "pathological" behavior patterns of the permanent poor.

About 6 percent of America's 33.1 million poor, however, make up a perminent "underclass" in minority-dominated inner-city ghettos, said Loury, who is considered an expert in the field.

"Two decades ago it was fashionable to say, `to hold people responsible for their own behavior is to blame the victim.' That line just is not tenable,"saidLoury. He said the present welfare system had fostered behavior among the poor that perpetuates their role as an underclass.

"Young women do not have children so they can cash in on welfare benefits, but there is nothing to discourage it," said Loury. He called for an increased role for community and church groups with direct community ties, rather than government bureaucrats, in fighting poverty.

Mary Jo Bane, a professor of public policy at the school, who is now a chief policy advisor at the New York State Department of Social Services, said, "Working as a government bureaucrat has made me more humble" on how much government alone can accomplish.