Christopher Jencks is the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard. He is the author of Rethinking Social Policy and The Homeless, among other books. (June 2016)


Why the Very Poor Have Become Poorer

‘Tiny holding Horsey with Keanna,’ Seattle, 1993; photograph by Mary Ellen Mark from the exhibition ‘Tiny: Streetwise Revisited,’ at the Aperture Foundation, New York City, May 26–June 30. The book includes essays by Isabel Allende and John Irving and is published by Aperture. The film ‘Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell,’ made by Mark and her husband Martin Bell, will be shown at BAMcinemaFest on June 25.

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer
The most obvious explanation for the increase in extreme poverty between 1996 and 2011 is that jobs were harder to find in 2011, but that is only half the story.

Did We Lose the War on Poverty?—II

Shadows of residents of a housing project in Red Hook, Brooklyn, 2011; photograph by Jared Wellington, a twelve-year-old workshop participant, from Project Lives: New York Public Housing Residents Photograph Their World. Edited by George Carrano, Chelsea Davis, and Jonathan Fisher, it has just been published by PowerHouse Books.

Legacies of the War on Poverty

edited by Martha J. Bailey and Sheldon Danziger
Although an accurate estimate of how the poverty rate has changed since 1964 would show that we are much closer to achieving President Lyndon Johnson’s original goal of eliminating poverty than most readers of this journal probably believe, it would not tell us how effective specific antipoverty programs have been.

The War on Poverty: Was It Lost?

Lyndon Johnson campaigning in Illinois in 1964, the year he declared ‘war on poverty’

Legacies of the War on Poverty

edited by Martha J. Bailey and Sheldon Danziger
Both liberals and conservatives tend to resist the idea that poverty has fallen dramatically since 1964, although for different reasons. Conservatives’ resistance is easy to understand. They have argued since the 1960s that the federal government’s antipoverty programs were ineffective, counterproductive, or both. Since the 1970s they have cited the stability of the post-1969 poverty rate to support those judgments. Liberals hear the claim that poverty has fallen quite differently, although they do not like it any better than conservatives do. Anyone, liberal or conservative, who wants the government to solve a problem soon discovers that it is easier to rally support for such an agenda by saying that the problem in question is getting worse than by saying that although the problem is diminishing, more still needs to be done.

On America’s Front Lines

An empty lot in North Philadelphia, 2010; photograph by Daniel Traub, whose book, North Philadelphia, has just been published by Kehrer

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City

by Alice Goffman

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

a report by the National Research Council, edited by Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western, and Steve Redburn
Alice Goffman’s On the Run is an engrossing book that should also become an ethnographic classic. It describes the world of young jobless black men who have seldom finished high school. Like most such men, Goffman’s friends had almost all served time in prison; before she left the neighborhood, she visited many of them in prison. This is a world with which few readers of this journal are likely to have had much contact. I certainly haven’t, despite having spent a lifetime writing about social policy.

The Immigration Charade

State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America

by Patrick J. Buchanan
America’s ongoing argument about immigration has followed a fairly consistent sequence for three decades. Each round begins with news reports about the fact that thousands of new immigrants are settling here illegally every week. These reports lead to charges that the United States has lost control of its borders and …