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Article

The study of economic development in African countries is facing a basic problem of lack of reliable data and statistics. These problems of economic data are best addressed under three main categories: design, capacity, and politics. The focus is on gross domestic product (GDP), but the relevance goes beyond GDP statistics because the aggregate of GDP requires economic data on all sectors of the economy, including expenditures and consumption, which gives the basis for discussing levels and trends in monetary poverty as well as having a correct count of the total population. The problem of design refers to the fact that many, if not most, of the statistical categories that are in use in international organizations disseminating statistics on social and economic affairs are categories that were designed as appropriate for developed countries. Indicators such as “unemployment” work better in a formalized labor market. The problems of design translate into problems of capacity. Because most economic transactions are not recorded in informal economies, this means that they are not reported as a rule and that therefore such recordings require a lot more resources. Many statistics that are readily available from administrative sources in higher-income countries need to be collected in more expensive surveys in low-income countries. Budgets for official services may already be constrained, and thus resources for statistical offices to collect these data are less than the resources needed to do so. Finally, politics of data matter. When statistics are based on missing data, the estimates will invariably be soft, and therefore malleable. Thus, when incentives are clearly identifiable before reporting or aggregation, the final estimates may be biased.

Article

Social policy has a particular character and set of associated politics in the European Union (EU) context. There is a double contestation involved: the extent of the EU’s agency in the field and the type of social policy model pursued. The former is contested because social policy is typically and traditionally a matter of national competence and the latter because the social policy model is crucial to economic and market development. Hence, social policy has both functional and political significance, and EU engagement risks member states’ capacity to control the social fate of their citizens and the associated resources, authority, and power that come with this capacity. The political contestations are at their core territorially and/or social class based; the former crystalizes how wide and extensive the EU authority should be in social policy and the latter a left/right continuum in regard to how redistributive and socially interventionist EU social policy should be. Both are the subject of a complicated politics at EU level. First, there is a diverse set of agents involved, not just member states and the “political” EU institutions (Parliament and Council) but the Commission is also an important “interested” actor. This renders institutional politics and jockeying for power typical features of social policymaking in the EU. Second, one has to break down the monolith of the EU institutions and recognize that within and among them are actors or units that favor a more left or right position on social policy. Third, actors’ positions do not necessarily align on the two types of contestation (apart perhaps from the social nongovernmental organizations and to a lesser extent employers and business interests). Some actors who favor an extensive role for social policy in general are skeptical about the role of the EU in this regard (e.g., trade unions, some social democratic parties) while others (some sectors of the Commission) wish for a more expansive EU remit in social policy but also support a version of social policy pinned tightly to market and economic functions. In this kind of context, the strongest and most consistent political thrust is toward a type of EU social policy that is most clearly oriented to enabling the Union’s economic and market-related objectives. Given this and the institutional set-up, the default position in EU social policy is for a market-making social policy orientation on the one hand and a circumscribed role for the EU in social policy on the other.

Article

Erica Ashbaugh and Gary A. Goreham

Bread for the World, Inc. is a 501(c)4 faith-based organization whose purpose is to advocate policymakers to end hunger and poverty. The organization began in the early 1970s, founded by Arthur Simon, who became its first president. Simon’s 1975 book, Bread for the World, outlined the vision and scope of the organization, not as a service-delivery entity but as an education, coalition-building, and advocacy organization. David Beckmann, author of Exodus from Hunger: We Are Called to Change the Politics of Hunger, is the organization’s president as of 1991. The organization is supported by individuals, local congregations, denominations, and other organizations. Two related affiliates were created to assist in the hunger-ending goal. First, Bread for the World Institute, a 501(c)3 organization, conducts research on domestic and global hunger issues and disseminates reports to those advocating for hunger-ending policy with its Annual Hunger Report. Second, the Alliance to End Hunger, a 501(c)3 organization, brings together a wide range of both faith-based and secular organizations in the fight against hunger. Bread for the World has a noteworthy history of advocacy and collaboration. They actively advocated in 2000 for Jubilee 2000, a debt relief and forgiveness program for over 40 countries. They promoted the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000 to promote quality of life, human rights, and equitable trade relationships between the United States and African countries. Bread for the World advocated for the Food for Peace Acts and the 2016 Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act to extend foreign aid more quickly and efficiently. They worked with legislators regarding the Head Start programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program. Bread for the World used a Feed Our Children letter-writing campaign for individuals to put pressure on legislators to place priority on children’s food programs. As winner of the World Food Prize in 2010, David Beckmann stated, “We must talk to real people in power, about concrete issues, and not about big dreams.” Bread for the World’s goal is the UN’s Sustainability Development Goal to eliminate hunger by 2030.

Article

Lara Rusch, R. Khari Brown, Ronald E. Brown, and Francine Banner

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spiritual vision of a Beloved Community, equally valuing all humans, called for direct, transgressive action for political and cultural change. Despite his and others’ effective mobilization for racial justice, this vision of an economically just society has largely not been achieved. The 20th century witnessed a growing chasm in political interpretations of American Christianity, between those who believe their faith requires challenging the roots of poverty and those who believe such inequality reflects fair judgment on personal behavior. These dynamics affect the charitable and political choices of religious institutions as well as individual support for social programs. Most clergy in the United States report preaching about issues social justice, and the vast majority of churches provide some social services; however, less than a third engage in political action toward similar goals. Regional inequality, the mobility of people and capital, and dynamics of congregational adaptation create challenges for religious leaders who seek to educate and engage congregants on social justice. Still, a persistent minority of leaders and institutions actively seek Dr. King’s vision, often working in community coalitions, such as innovative programs for court reform, addressing the criminalization of poverty. More research is needed to assess what kinds of anti-poverty programs and activism are the product of congregations across ideology, and what belief systems or contexts shape their choices to assist the needy. Additionally, future work could consider the appropriate roles for religious institutions in negotiating their own religious mandates and community pressures in relation to the interests of the state, such as through the criminal justice system or public social programs, and the interests of vulnerable community members.

Article

Leading advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) advancement in the United States debate the central objectives of the movement as well as its proper reformist scope. On the libertarian right, gay rights proponents articulate a narrow vision, devoid of race or class consciousness and focused on obtaining formal equality through spare legal reforms—mainly access to marriage and military inclusion. On the left, advocates envision a larger cultural transformation, one that intersects with racial and economic justice and challenges the norms of powerful institutions such as family, capitalism, and the military. A review of empirical research demonstrates that the needs in the LGBTQ community are diverse and, in many cases, urgent. The most privileged, along axes of race and class, may have few concerns apart from protection against discrimination and formal exclusion from major social institutions. Once the full spectrum of LGBTQ demographics and experience are considered, however, such a constricted range of reform objectives reveals itself to be insufficient to address such obstacles as hunger, homelessness, and unemployment. A fresh approach to evaluating LGBTQ legal needs yields an equally fresh set of alternatives to the mainstream legal reform agenda. An intersectionally and distributively cognizant shift in the movement’s direction could advance the needs of the most disadvantaged members of the community, including homeless youth, transgender sex workers, and low-income parents.

Article

Jeremy Seekings

The emerging literature on the politics of social protection in Africa provides insights into the ways in which the unevenly changing character of representative democracy shapes processes of public policymaking in practice. Reforms are widely on the agenda, in part as a result of their advocacy by diverse international organizations and aid donors. But there are many obstacles between the policy agenda and policymaking (and implementation). In many countries, political elites hold conservative views on cash transfer programs. The institutionalization of regular and nominally contested elections has rarely resulted in significant pressures from below for pro-poor programmatic social policy reforms. In some countries, “democratic” politics continues to revolve around competition for patronage rather than programmatic reform. In others, voters themselves seem to prioritize other programs (especially agricultural subsidies) ahead of social protection. Nonetheless, a growing number of competitively elected governments have introduced reforms, as have some semi-democratic or authoritarian regimes. For both more and less democratic governments, regime legitimation through apparently more inclusive development seems to be a more powerful factor than voter pressure.

Article

The last two decades witnessed an unprecedented decline in poverty across the developing world, a decline partly explained by the adoption of social cash transfer programs. Ironically, Latin America, traditionally the world’s most unequal region, has been a global trendsetter in this regard. Beginning in the late 1990s, governments across the region and across the ideological spectrum began adopting conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs, which award poor families regular stipends conditional on their children attending school and/or getting regular medical check-ups, and non-contributory pension (NCP) schemes for low-income and/or uncovered seniors. There is robust evidence that CCT programs achieve their short-term goals of reducing poverty while increasing school attendance and usage of health services. However, they do not improve learning and appear to be failing at their long-term goal of breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Likely as a result of low-quality education, long-term CCT beneficiaries do not have significantly better economic prospects than comparable non-beneficiaries. CCTs also have electoral effects—there is robust evidence from across the region that they increase support for incumbent presidential candidates. CCTs were a response to the two big transformations the region underwent during the 1980s: the debt crisis and subsequent lost decade and the transition of most countries to democracy. Increased economic insecurity following the crisis and subsequent neoliberal reforms represented both a threat to the survival of newly elected governments and an opportunity for politicians to win over voters through increased social assistance. Pioneered by Mexico and Brazil in the mid-1990s, CCTs were by far the most effective policies to emerge from that context. They quickly diffused across the region, often with support from international financial institutions. Counterintuitively, adoption appears to be unrelated to the ascendance of left-wing governments in the region during the 2000s. The politics of CCT design are less understood. The myriad ways in which design can be conceptualized and measured, combined with the relative newness of this literature, have limited the accumulation of knowledge. It does appear that left-wing governments adopt more expansive CCTs and de-emphasize conditionality enforcement. Whereas their initial adoption and expansion, which coincided with the 2000s economic boom, proved politically easy, further reductions in poverty will require politically difficult choices, namely, raising taxes and/or redirecting funds away from programs benefiting the better-off. Improving the long-term effectiveness of CCTs will require improving education quality, which in turn will require challenging the region’s powerful teachers’ unions.