There is no question that the disappearance of manufacturing jobs has left an indelible mark on the United States. One of those marks is poverty. A recent story in the New York Times details the decline of Oakridge, OR as concurrent with the disappearance of the local mills and the jobs by which the community flourished. The story is terribly sad, it’s about the veritable death of a town and the loss of hope for positive change by its residents. Think of Flint, MI as portrayed in Roger and Me and you’ll get the idea.
While there’s no denying the face of poverty in Oakridge there are some who are questioning how we measure poverty in order to aid those who need it most. The question is a good one, we should certainly be striving for the most accurate depiction of the problem so we can bring resources to bear on it. To this end, researcher Nicholas Eberstadt at the American Enterprise Institute has published an article in Policy Review about how poverty is measured and the problems attendant to that measurement. Caution – this is a long read but is also well worth the effort. Eberstadt takes care to detail the history of poverty measurement and carefully document the discrepancies in the measures currently used and the questions these raise about what poverty statistics really tell us.
Both these sorts of efforts are important – we need to document poverty and create narratives about those who experience it firsthand. At the same time, our public policy (and public deliberation) needs accurate statistics that yield an understanding of the scope and development of the problem. In addition, citizens need to talk about the problem and its solutions. Two of our partners, the Northwest Area Foundation and the Study Circles Resource Center, have teamed up to produce a community discussion guide that we can recommend titled "Thriving Communities: Working Together to Move from Poverty to Prosperity for All."