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date: 18 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article examines how views on why people are poor can influence the design of antipoverty policy. It argues that, broadly speaking, theories of why people are poor fall into two categories. First, there are theories grounded in the view that the poor suffer from individual defects: inadequate human capital, self-defeating culture, and genetic inferiority. Second, there are theories grounded in the view that the poor are especially vulnerable to societal defects: unemployment, overpopulation, and obstacles to wealth accumulation. The persistence of high levels of poverty in the United States is the result of policies that follow from the perspective that the poor suffer from individual defects. The current path of antipoverty policy is likely to perpetuate poverty and the sentiment that the poor are deserving of their status.

Keywords: poor, poverty alleviation, public perception, societal defects

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