Poverty and Progress
Conquering poverty, and its attendant social evils, has long been considered a mark of progress in modern societies. One of the most highly publicized examples of this was the War on Poverty that was launched in the United States in the 1960s. Success in this "war" came to be seen as an important criterion of national achievement. The eventual public perception that antipoverty programs had failed, especially in dealing with the problems of urban blacks, contributed much to growing pessimism about lack of progress felt by U.S. opinion leaders in the 1980s and 1990s (Staff of the Chicago Tribune, 1986; Kelso, 1994). 1
In the present chapter we will take a look at how ideas about poverty have evolved over the past century. Poverty is a highly politicized issue. Public thinking about the poor is greatly influenced by political movements and by shifts in the balance of power. At the same time, public perceptions of poverty have been shaped in the twentieth century by the research findings reported by social scientists. Contemporary ideas about poverty are therefore partly produced by the agenda and methods of the social sciences.
Attempts to link attacks on poverty with national goals of social progress have a long history in the social sciences. At the end of the nineteenth century, and in the early twentieth century, progressive reformers realized that acting on the problem of poverty required information derived from social research. Some of the earliest research on poverty was