It is time to rethink poverty programs that focus on the whole individual rather than simply meeting immediate needs created by scarcity (poverty).

I recently came across an interesting study about childhood poverty from the UK written by Frank Field who was commissioned by the Prime Minister in June 2010 to “provide and independent review on poverty and life chances.”

He said: “A major limitation of the existing child poverty measures is that they have incentivized a policy response focused largely on income transfers. This approach has stalled in recent years and is financially unsustainable. A more effective approach is to use a set of measures that will incentivize a focus on improving children’s life chances, and ultimately break the transmission of intergenerational poverty.” (pg. 71)

He also said: “Nothing can be achieved without working with parents. All of our recommendations are about enabling parents to achieve the aspirations that they have for their children.” (pg. 6)

I can think of three main areas of application in Idaho: early childhood education, the PCAP proposal, and entitlement reform.

The question in the early childhood education debate is not if early childhood education is important. The question is “Will the future of early childhood education be based upon the central role of parents or will community and state programs replace the role of the parents?” Will programs support parents or parents support programs?

We learned in education committee yesterday the scoring of the Idaho Reading Indicator given to children as they enter kindergarten.

  • A score of ‘1’ means the child can identify 0-1 letters out of 11
  • A score of ‘2’ means the child can identify 2-3 letters out of 11
  • A score of ‘3’ means the child can identify 11 letters out of 11

I have never known what the scoring of the Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI) meant. I will definitely tell every parent of small children to encourage them to work with their children.   Parents who spend a small amount of time with their children could increase the average IRI score significantly. Why haven’t parents been told this before?

The second area is the Primary Care Access Program (PCAP) proposal. Current safety net programs that focus on relieving hunger, lack of shelter, and provide other basic needs have an impact; however, they do not transform lives. Those in scarcity also have relationship, communication, financial, employment, and networking needs. The next generation of safety net programs must recognize the needs of the whole person which can only be addressed by attention to individual needs. This requires a one-on-one interaction which can be supplied by a volunteer coach or facilitator.

America has spent nearly $19 trillion on the War on Poverty without moving the dial. This is because the focus has been on removing scarcity through wealth transfers rather than removing scarcity through building individual capacity. True charity helps a person become independent.

We can do better.