Candace Howes Ann R. Markusen
Poverty: A Regional Political Economy Perspective
Poverty can be defined as the inability of a household to enjoy a basic livelihood. Livelihood should be thought of in physical rather than monetary terms, and can be secured through several institutions: the workplace, the household, the public sector, and the commodity marketplace. In this chapter, the focus is on the workplace and the household as settings for the generation of nonmetro poverty.
In most discussions of nonmetro poverty, lack of income has been equated with poverty status. Theoretical treatments of the origins of nonmetro poverty have therefore concentrated on the imperfections in the income generation process that result in lack of gainful employment for the poor. Unemployment is analyzed either as a function of deficiencies in worker's skills or of insufficient investment inducements to employers. These correspond to the supply and demand sides of the labor market. Health, education, and manpower training programs are aimed at enhancing the quality of labor supplied, and stimulants to invest, such as industrial parks, tax incentives, and financial subsidies, are supposed to expand the demand for labor. Although the stimulation of labor demand appears to be the more powerful approach, existing policies that seek to induce investment do not necessarily reach the poverty population, because they are based on an inadequate understanding of the way in which investment decisions affect the quality and quantity of jobs offered.
An alternate view is proposed here, that nonmetro poverty is a product of the dynamics of the accumulation process under capitalist evolution, rather than a result of characteristics of the rural poor or of insufficient investment demand. Three aspects of this evolution stand out: the breakdown of household and other nonwage labor production in certain nonmetro areas, the deliberate creation and maintenance of a reserve army of labor, and the changing