Work and Poverty

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Ryan Anderson’s short essay on a new book by Lawrence Mead includes some interesting numbers:

Mead responds to a host of competing arguments about poverty, noting that “poverty is caused mostly by low working hours, not low wages.”  Good middle-class jobs may be hard to find right now, but there are ample low-skilled jobs available: “In 2009, only 12 percent of poor adults who did not work blamed this on their inability to find work. In 2007, before the recession, the figure was only 5 percent.” These jobs, Mead insists, “are still sufficient to avoid poverty and welfare for most families.” Our recent economic downturn isn’t to blame, for “in good times and bad, most poor adults are not even in the labor force, so the recession little affects them.” (In fact, the recession has mainly hit the middle class, and, Mead helpfully reminds us, “inequality and poverty are largely separate problems.”)