Christopher Jencks is the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard. He is the author of Rethinking ­Social Policy, among several other books. (April 2015)

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 <i>Project Lives: New York Public Housing Residents Photograph Their World</i>. Edited by George Carrano, Chelsea Davis, and Jonathan Fisher, it has just been published by PowerHouse Books.
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’
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, <i>North Philadelphia</i>, has just been published by Kehrer
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

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 …

What Happened to Welfare?

When Clinton promised to end welfare, most Americans, according to many polls and surveys, saw AFDC as a Democratic program that had contributed to the spread of unwed motherhood and economic dependency. Clinton’s long-term goal was to remove welfare from national political attention so that it would no longer cost …

‘Who Should Get In?’: An Exchange

To the Editors: Although Christopher Jencks’s recent two-part essay exhibits the intellectual dexterity that readers have come to expect from him, his analysis has overall an unjustifiably gloomy tenor concerning the integration prospects of contemporary immigrants and their children.

Who Should Get In? Part II

Many rich countries have tried hiring foreigners to do their dirty work. Few have been happy with the results. Hiring immigrants for unskilled jobs seems a good deal for the employer. Immigrants will usually accept lower wages than natives, and at least in the United States most employers report that …

Who Should Get In?

America’s first immigrants, the ancestors of today’s Indians, came from North Asia at least 13,000 years ago. They spread quickly across North and South America, but their numbers remained low. In 1600 Western Europe had at least ten and perhaps a hundred times more people per square mile than what …

Housing the Homeless

When the numbers of homeless people began to increase in the early 1980s, their advocates often blamed the housing market for what was happening. In those years, the homeless were mostly poor single adults, many of whom had traditionally lived in “single room occupancy” (SRO) hotels and rooming houses. Since …

The Homeless

Late in the 1970s Americans began noticing more people sleeping in public places, wandering the streets with their possessions in shopping bags, rooting through garbage bins in search of food or cans, and asking for handouts. By January 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office, a small group of activists led …

The Election and the Future: A Symposium

C. Vann Woodward It was President Reagan himself who suggested that the recent presidential election might be regarded as a referendum on his own presidency. There is much to support his view. “I feel a little like I’m on the ballot myself,” he said, and he campaigned that way. The …

Genes & Crime

Like rain on election day, crime is good for the Republicans. Whenever crime seems to be increasing, significant numbers of Americans tend to blame liberal permissiveness and turn to conservative political candidates, partly because they endorse a sterner approach to raising children, policing the streets, and punishing criminals, and partly …

How Poor Are the Poor?

From 1946 until 1964 the conservative politicians who dominated Congress thought that the federal government might be capable of transforming American society, but they saw this as a danger to be avoided at almost any cost. For the following twelve years the liberals who dominated Congress thought that the federal …

Special Treatment for Blacks?

Have the government’s attempts to stop discrimination through “affirmative action” been a help or a hindrance to blacks? What is in question here is Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed all forms of employer discrimination against blacks and other minorities, and Executive Orders 11246 and 11375, …

Discrimination and Thomas Sowell

The 1980 elections marked the end of an era in American race relations. Between 1964 and 1980 federal officials had argued about the moral legitimacy and practical benefits of particular strategies for helping blacks catch up with whites economically, but none had questioned the principle that the government should actively …

Destiny’s Tots

Demographers have seldom been good prophets. In 1798 Thomas Malthus, the founder of modern demography, based his famous Essay on the principle of population on the fact that American experience showed that “population, when unchecked, goes on doubling itself every twenty-five years.” Malthus was right about America in the eighteenth …

The Moynihan Report

Washington After six months of private circulation among government officials and a steadily widening circle of increasingly loose-mouthed journalists, the controversial “Moynihan Report” on the Negro family has been released to the public. Actually, the name of Daniel Patrick Moynihan appears nowhere on the 78-page pamphlet. But the authorship …

Democracy

Three out of four voters, according to the polls, favor federal aid to education. One of the Capital’s largest and best financed lobbies, the National Education Association, spends huge sums every year to push such a program. No major interest group will lose anything by federal aid to education; opposition …

Hard Marker

This ought to have been an important book. For one thing, American education is a national failure, and it deserves ruthless criticism. For another, Admiral Rickover has both the wit and the position to offer such criticism and suggest alternatives. And for a third, the comparison of American with European …