How to Solve the “Poverty Paradox”

Posted by Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity on April 18, 2023

In this Spotlight Exclusive, we speak with Washington University sociologist Mark Robert Rank about his new book, The Poverty Paradox, which sheds light on the structural failures that have led the U.S. to be both the world’s wealthiest nation and one with some of the highest rates of persistent poverty. Rank has developed a structural vulnerability framework that explores failures at both the economic and political levels in the U.S. From a structural standpoint, Rank explains that while the U.S. has done a fairly good job of creating jobs over the past 50 years, many of these jobs are low-paying and without benefits, prohibiting these workers from getting ahead and thriving. At the political level, Rank points out that the weak social safety net does not offer substantial measures to help people from falling into poverty. Rank stresses that the consequences of not addressing poverty impact all of us and that policymakers should adopt an “enlightened self-interest” approach to the poverty policy discussion. “[D]on’t think of it as an issue of them, but rather as an issue of us,” Rank says. “By doing so, we begin to understand that it’s in all of our best interests to address and reduce poverty and the negative consequences that comes from it.”

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