Do Programs for the Poor Become Poor Programs?

 

Most Americans agree that achieving better educational outcomes is one of the key ingredients to providing better opportunities for moving up the economic ladder.  As one way to accomplish this, more and more attention is being given to early childhood education.  The preeminent early childhood program in the U.S. is Head Start, which was begun in the 1960s as part of LBJ’s war on poverty.  But a 2012 federal evaluation of Head Start showed that children who have participated in Head Start have been no more successful in elementary school than those who haven’t.
In today’s New York Times, UC Berkeley Professor David Kirp addresses this problem, “The Benefits of Mixing Rich and Poor”.  Mr. Kirp reminds us that only low-income children are eligible to participate in Head Start.  He then goes on to describe several pre-K programs around the country which serve kids from both low-income and middle class families together.  These programs achieve much better success for low-income kids without sacrificing the interests of the well-off kids.
CaptureA similar phenomenon has been observed in the Learning Community of Omaha Nebraska.  The LC is a six year old experiment created by the State to close the achievement gap between children from low income and middle class families.  The Open Enrollment facet of the LC enables low income kids to receive free transportation to transfer to other schools within the 11 individual school districts which comprise the LC.  The above chart shows that resident FRL (free and reduced price lunch) students in low poverty schools perform substantially better than resident FRL students in high poverty schools.  In other words, low-income students benefit academically from associating with middle class students.
The question is how to design efficient public policy around this widely noted and common sense observation.  It would be too expensive, in today’s tight budget climate, to provide universal pre-K education for all three and four year olds in the U.S.  But the Rosemount Center, in Washington D.C., one of the pre-K programs described by Mr. Kirp., admits children from middle class families on a paying basis.
This could become an affordable and effective national model for providing pre-K education for rich and poor together!

The Best Way to Spread the Wealth

 

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Stephen Moore discusses how “Obama’s Economy Hits His Voters Hardest.”  A  report by Sentier Research shows that the average American household income has fallen from $54,478 in June 2009 (when the recession ended) to $52,098 in June 2013, amounting to a decline of 4.4%.
Mr. Moore notes that in the 2012 election, won by Barack Obama with 51% of the vote, the President received 60% of the youth vote, 67% of single women, 93% of black, 73% of Hispanics, and 64% of those without a high school diploma.
But, according to Sentier Research, it is precisely these groups for which income has fallen the most during the last four years.  Those under age 25 experienced an income decline of 9.6%, single women’s income dropped 7%, black heads of household’s incomes dropped 10.9%, Hispanic’s by 4.5%, and those without a high school diploma by 6.9%.
On the other hand, during the period 1981 – 2008, often referred to as the Great Moderation, income for black women was up by 81%, followed by white women up 67%, black men up 31% and, finally, white men up only 8%.  In other words, income inequality shrunk dramatically during the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush years and has increased significantly during the Obama years.
The lesson is that in order to spread the wealth it is first necessary to create more wealth.  If more people were working today, and the economy was growing faster, then the people at the bottom of the income scale would be doing much better and gaining on everyone else.  There are tried and true methods to get this done!  It’s exasperating that we aren’t using them!