Steinhardt’s J. Lawrence Aber Co-authors Report to Fight Poverty that Bridges Partisan Divide

At a time when political polarization and gridlock have paralyzed much of Washington, a politically diverse group of experts on poverty — including Steinhardt’s J. Lawrence Aber and two other NYU professors — set aside their differences and created a detailed plan for reducing poverty and increasing economic mobility. With support from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Brookings Institution, the group worked together for 14 months to review the best available evidence and craft a plan that all believe would be effective. The key to their success was the recognition that all of them — like nearly all Americans — believe in three core values: opportunity, responsibility, and security.

Among the plan’s achievements is a chapter offering an unbiased review of the basic facts about poverty, mobility, education, employment, and marriage in America today. Too often these facts have been politicized; experts on left and right have not even been able to agree on whether poverty has declined since 1980 (it has) or on whether economic mobility is greater in the US than in other industrialized countries (it is not). This highly accessible “facts” chapter will improve policy discussions for years to come.

The report simultaneously addresses three interlocking domains of American life — family, work, and education — and calls for each side of the partisan divide to acknowledge that the other side has important insights and policy proposals. For example, to improve the stability and security of family environments, the report states both that marriage matters to children’s development (as the right has long maintained) and that family planning and parenting education programs pay off (as the left has long maintained) In addition, to improve education, the report endorses both public charter schools (which conservatives have promoted) and community schools that serve as hubs that deliver needed health and social services to children and parents (which progressives have promoted).

“Our report recommends making strategic investments in preschool and postsecondary education, improving low-income children’s social-emotional learning and thereby their academic learning, modernizing the organization and accountability of U.S. schools, and reducing education resource gaps. Together, these actions will help reverse the growing income-based achievement gap that is one of the major determinants of U.S. poverty in the 21st century,” said Aber, the Willner Family Professor of Psychology and Public Policy at NYU Steinhardt. In addition to Aber, NYU Stern professor Jonathan Haidt and NYU politics professor Lawrence Mead were part of the 15-person working group.

The authors address how to pay for their proposals, noting that policymakers need to slow the growth of entitlement spending while ensuring security for seniors who rely on government pensions and health care. Citing Abraham Lincoln, the authors of the report argue that it should be a shared national mission to “clear paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

“It has been thrilling to work with this group and to watch its members meld over time into a single team,” said Haidt, who moderated the group’s discussions. “At a few points it looked like we were going to fail and fall apart, but the friendships and trust that grew over time got us over the rough patches and allowed us to create something far better and more politically viable than either side could have created on its own.”