IN WHICH I PRAISE DAVID BROOKS. So much as I was disappointed by his column last week on "neopopulism," Brooks' latest effort, a comparison of the poverty plans offered by John Edwards and Barack Obama, is really very good. He treats the plans respectfully, describes their varying emphases accurately, and comes to a fair conclusion on which he prefers:
Obama and Edwards agree on a lot, but in this matter they emphasize different things. As Alec MacGillis of The Washington Post observed, Edwards emphasizes programs that help people escape from concentrated poverty. Obama emphasizes programs that fix inner-city neighborhoods. One helps people find better environments, the other seeks to strengthen the environment they are already in.
Edwards would create a million housing vouchers for working families. These would, he argues, “enable people to vote with their feet to demand safe communities with good schools.” They’d help people move to where the jobs are and foster economic integration.
The problem with his approach is that past efforts at dispersal produced disappointing results. Families who were given the means to move from poor neighborhoods to middle-class areas did not see incomes rise. Girls in those families did a little better, but boys did worse. They quickly formed subcultures in the new communities that replicated patterns of the old ones. Male criminality rose, but test scores did not.
Obama, by contrast, builds his approach around the Harlem Children’s Zone, what he calls “an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty effort.” The zone takes an area in Harlem and saturates it with childcare, marriage counseling, charter schools and job counselors and everything else you can think of. Obama says he’ll start by replicating the program in 20 cities around the country.
In this case, Brooks' description of the research is accurate The largest experimental demonstration of economic integration was the Moving to Opportunity Program, a fairly large program where 5,000 families were given Section 8 vouchers and mobility counseling to move from ghettos to areas with under 10 percent poverty. Their outcomes were closely tracked and the results were tremendously disappointing. You can find plenty of the research here. The researchers concluded: