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Updated 10:00 AM February 13, 2006




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  Distinguished University Professor lecture
Policy changes could lift many from poverty

Poverty in the United States remains high because the economy for many years has not delivered the benefits of prosperity to all workers. But government action, including raising the minimum wage, expanding the earned income tax credit and subsidizing health insurance for low-income families not covered by Medicaid, could help reduce it, according to a U-M professor who next week will discuss poverty research.
(Photo courtesy Sheldon Danziger)

"The government has done less in recent years to offset the negative effects of economic changes on less-educated workers than it did in the decade following the war on poverty," says Sheldon Danziger, the Henry J. Meyer Distinguished University Professor (DUP) of Public Policy.

In addition, demographic changes, such as rapid immigration and the increase in single-parent families, have contributed to increased poverty, says Danziger, who will deliver his DUP lecture, "America's Persisting Poverty: What Research Says About How to Reduce It," at 4 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Rackham Amphitheatre. His professorship is named after Meyer, a faculty member from 1958-78 recognized for his promotion of interdisciplinary doctoral programs that bridged the social sciences.

The United States never has been wealthier, Danziger notes, as real per capita income today is double that of the early 1970s. Millions of workers, however, still have difficulty earning enough to support their families. The U.S. Census Bureau indicated that in 2004, 37 million people were poor. According to the bureau, the poverty threshold for a single parent with two children is $15,219 a year. For a two-parent household with two children, the figure is $19,157.

Although U.S. poverty levels have climbed in recent years, policies to reduce them have worked in other parts of the world, Danziger says. In the United Kingdom in the late-1990s, the government expanded policies to help those who work but earn too little to escape poverty. He says similar policies could reduce poverty in the United States.

Danziger has written numerous books and journal articles about poverty and inequality. Along with Peter Gottschalk of Boston College, he was among the first researchers to develop methods to demonstrate that after the early 1970s, the rising tide of economic growth no longer benefited families throughout the income distribution.

"Sheldon is a scholar whose research, teaching and mentoring have had a profound impact on the research field of poverty and low-income labor markets," says Rebecca Blank, dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, who nominated Danziger for the award.

After obtaining his doctorate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Danziger began his career in poverty research in the mid-1970s as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This was a period when the federal government actively was expanding antipoverty policies and promoting poverty research at universities.

Since joining the U-M faculty in 1988 he has been a member of nearly 40 dissertation committees and supervised 30 postdoctoral fellows. Most fellows have been supported by grants to Danziger from the Ford Foundation.

"The excellent mentoring I received as a postdoc at Madison shaped my career," says Danziger, co-director of the National Poverty Center and research professor at the Population Studies Center in the Institute for Social Research. "When I came to U-M, I decided that I could return the favor by mentoring the next generation of poverty researchers."

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