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Solving the problem of American poverty

Data: Robin Hood Poverty Tracker/Columbia University Population Research Center survey of 2,877 New York City adults between 2015 and 2018; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

42% of New Yorkers have lived in poverty at some point in the past three years. That's according to a tracking survey operated by Columbia University and Robin Hood, which polls 4,000 households every quarter. (Not all of them were trackable across three successive years, but 2,877 were.)

The big picture: The key result from the poverty tracker is that people experience poverty in waves. Roughly 28% of New Yorkers who exit poverty will re-enter within three years. That number rises to 39% for black New Yorkers.

Driving the news: Tomorrow, Robin Hood will announce a $25 million program that's intended to fund research aimed at not only bringing households out of poverty but keeping them out of poverty. The ideas will be exported nationwide, with the help of Tipping Point Community and the Gates Foundation.

  • One proven intervention: CUNY ASAP is a scheme designed to ensure that college students graduate with an associate's degree within 3threeyears. It effectively doubles graduation rates, and that in turn slashes the probability that the graduate will ever return to poverty.
  • Another key policy is New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to extend public health insurance to 600,000 currently uninsured residents. When people return to poverty, it's often because of unexpected health care expenses.

The bottom line: Philanthropy can't fund these schemes, only government is big enough to do that. But philanthropists can certainly fund studies that demonstrate what works. Those studies, in turn, make it much easier for city and state governments to enact new laws and policies.

Go deeper: The geographical wage gap has stopped closing

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