MDRC in the News

Seeking Ways to Help the Poor and Childless

The New York Times

Last Friday at the Food Bank for New York on 116th Street, I caught a glimpse of the many shapes of need.

With a few hundred dollars, 25-year-old Ayesha Depay could afford the lessons she needs to pass her road test and get a driver’s license, an indispensable tool for the job she craves leading recreation programs for children......

......A 53-year-old security guard I talked to declined to provide his name, embarrassed perhaps that he was sleeping on friends’ couches, working barely enough hours to “keep my head above water.” He had so many potential uses for extra cash he couldn’t pin any one down.

For all their differences, these men and women shared one crucial thing. Despite incomes low enough that if they had been parents they would probably have qualified for substantial government cash assistance, they received little if any support. What drew them here was the chance to participate in an antipoverty experiment started by the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity to test what would happen if the government were to help adults without children......

.....To perform the investigation, proposed by the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and supported by his successor, Bill de Blasio, New York City contracted with MDRC, a nonprofit social policy research organization, to track 6,000 low-income single adults who do not have direct responsibility over children — from never-married childless women to divorced fathers who don’t have custody of their children but are obligated to pay child support......

.....From the 1930s well into the 1970s, most mothers were eligible for aid to families with dependent children only when the man was out of the home. “People from the welfare office came around looking for evidence of a man,” said MDRC’s president, Gordon L. Berlin. Today, low-income noncustodial fathers who can’t afford to pay child support are still not considered deserving of assistance. And they can go to jail for not paying up.

But the labor market is not doing its job the way it once did. Earnings of male high school graduates fell by nearly a fifth from 1979 to 2012, after inflation. For men without a high school diploma they declined by almost a third. Women’s wages have held up somewhat better, but are also declining for the least educated. Partly as a result, poverty among workers has increased faster over recent years than for working-age Americans without a job......

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